The West Virginia Supreme Court recently affirmed a circuit court decision clearing a physician and a registered nurse of medical malpractice, in the case of an 18-year old who died of a blood clot in 2004.
The young woman’s mother, Theresa Coleman, brought a civil suit against Dr. Allan Chamberlain and RN Patricia Hackney for medical malpractice, on the grounds that the blood clot was caused by oral contraceptives that they prescribed. The defendants, meanwhile, argued that Sara Coleman’s own actions and her health history were the cause. A few days prior to her death, Sara Coleman had fallen on a trampoline, whereas she had last taken a contraceptive pill four weeks prior. Sara Coleman had reportedly missed two days of work after her fall, and suffered shortness of breath on the morning of her death. She had a history of obesity and smoking, as well as a family history of blood clots, pulmonary embolism, and deep vein thrombosis.
Dr. Chamberlain was later dismissed from the lawsuit, and Dr. Michael Nutt added. After the circuit court jury returned a verdict in favor of Nutt and Hackney, Theresa Coleman filed a motion for a new trial. The circuit court denied her motion in April 2012, prompting Coleman to then file an appeal to the West Virginia Supreme Court. She argued that the circuit court had erroneously applied a new statute to an older case. The statute limits the liability of a health care provider when a patient ingests prescription drugs that the provider has approved. However, the supreme court affirmed the lower court ruling.
The supreme court first looked at Theresa Coleman’s contentions: the circuit court erred in allowing Dr. Chamberlain to be dismissed from the lawsuit; the circuit court erred in not allowing testimony about a missing medical form; the circuit court erroneously denied Coleman the right to present evidence as to Sara Coleman’s medical treatment; and the circuit court erred in denying Theresa Coleman the opportunity to impeach — or cross-examine — an expert witness’s credentials.
The supreme court found that Coleman had other opportunities to question the expert medical witness’s status other than cross-examination. The justices also noted that the circuit court judge laid out a lengthy analysis of his rulings on the missing medical form and other related issues, which meant that the judge studied the issues at length and did not act erroneously.
Losing a child is a tragedy that parents never fully get over. If parents believe that the tragedy was preventable, many will hire an experienced West Virginia wrongful death attorney and file a lawsuit in court. A successful wrongful death action requires proving the following by a preponderance of evidence: the one who caused the death (not the deceased) had a foreseeable duty to the deceased; breached that duty through unreasonable behavior; the unreasonable behavior directly or indirectly resulted in the deceased’s injury; and the deceased died as a result of the injury. In wrongful death cases, representatives of the deceased’s estate typically seek “damages,” or a monetary award for readily ascertainable costs like medical bills, as well as less ascertainable costs like loss of support.