Many states, including West Virginia, have strict procedures and requirements that govern the filing of any tort claim related to medical professionals or health care facilities. In West Virginia, these procedures are contained within the West Virginia Medical Professional Liability Act (MPLA). A failure to follow these procedures can result in the immediate dismissal of a claim. Since the requirements can be arduous, plaintiffs will, on occasion, try to avoid them by creatively pleading tort claims that they argue fall outside the purview of a medical malpractice or medical liability claim. In a recent case before the West Virginia Supreme Court, a plaintiff tried but failed to creatively plead a premises liability claim against a health care provider.
J.M. brought claims on behalf of her husband, who died after injuries he suffered as a result of a visit to Medexpress Urgent Care, Inc. Her husband, Mr. M., went to the facility, seeking medical help for difficulty breathing and possible pneumonia. He spoke with a medical assistant at the facility, who conducted an initial evaluation of his condition and took him back to an examination room. Despite the fact that Mr. M. was having trouble walking, the medical assistant left him unattended to try to get on the examination table. Mr. M. fell and suffered severe injuries. He died nine days later.
J.M. brought claims for premises liability, negligence, loss of consortium, and wrongful death. She did not follow the procedures of the MPLA. MedExpress moved for summary judgment on the claims, arguing that the action arose under the MPLA, and J.M.’s failure to follow it required judgment in its favor on the premises liability claim. The lower court agreed. After several post-judgment motions, J.M. appealed.
The MPLA applies to any claims resulting from the death or injury of a person based on health services that were rendered or that should have been rendered by a health care provider. J.M. argued that (1) the medical assistant who helped her husband was not a health care provider, and (2) the initial interactions with the medical assistant did not constitute health services rendered. The West Virginia Supreme Court quickly disposed of the first argument, finding that the MPLA explicitly stated that a health care provider includes any employee of a hospital or another health care facility. Thus, a medical assistant was a health care provider.
Turning to the question of whether health services were rendered, the Supreme Court noted that an integral part of treating a patient is the initial intake portion of a medical visit, which precedes an eventual examination. It noted that without such initial steps, a medical professional would not be able to adequately treat a patient. Accordingly, it found little difficulty in determining that the initial intake by the medical assistant was part of the course of rendering medical services. Indeed, the court noted that J.M.’s husband was in a medical examination room at the time of the accident, and MedExpress’ negligence was based in part on the fact that they had already taken information from her husband and were thus aware that he was having difficulty walking when they left him, unsupervised, to climb onto the examination table. This taking of medical history and preparation for an examination were part of rendering medical services, according to the Supreme Court.
When dealing with tort claims against a hospital or medical provider, a plaintiff must always carefully evaluate the requirements of West Virginia’s MPLA. Even when a claim appears only tangentially related to the provision of medical services, it is important to remember that the scope of the MPLA is broad, and it is better to abide by its requirements than to overlook them and face the possibility of dismissal. Our West Virginia personal injury lawyers have been assisting clients in navigating the complexities of the MPLA for more than 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of injury, criminal defense, and bankruptcy matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.
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