Civil Procedure

Admitted Clerical Negligence Sends Med Mal Case Back to Trial Court

, The Legal Intelligencer

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An undisputed clerical error will send a medical malpractice defense verdict back to the trial court, the Superior Court has ruled.

On Dec. 31, 2013, a unanimous three-judge panel ruled in McFarland v. Clarion Hospital that a clerk's filing error constituted negligence on behalf of the two doctors employing her, and therefore the jury should not have rendered a defense verdict. The decision reverses Clarion County Court of Common Pleas President Judge James G. Arner's ruling to uphold the verdict.

Writing the memorandum opinion, Judge Anne E. Lazarus said the admitted clerical error called for a finding of negligence against the two obstetricians in the case.

"The jury's verdict of no negligence was manifestly erroneous in light of the undisputed evidence of the clerk's malfeasance," she said. "Because doctors [John] Myers and [Bart] Matson admitted to the fact that their office clerk misfiled [plaintiff Kaine A. McFarland]'s ultrasound report and that this malfeasance constituted a breach in the standard of care for their medical office, the jury's verdict of no negligence bears no rational relationship to the evidence."

According to Lazarus, when the infant's mother was in her 37th week of pregnancy, obstetricians Myers and Matson ordered a diagnostic prenatal ultrasound, which was later interpreted by Dr. Eric J. Fielding as showing a large cyst or mass on the fetus' right kidney.

Although it was disputed how Fielding attempted to contact the obstetricians, his report was eventually sent to the obstetricians via the hospital's mailing system. While the report was en route, the mother went into labor and delivered the baby. The report arrived four days later, but was misfiled by an office staff member and placed in a pile of papers relating to disability claims, Lazarus said.

Some 10 days later, the baby was admitted suffering from severe lethargy and vomiting, and another ultrasound was taken, which revealed a cyst on the baby's right kidney. McFarland was life-flighted to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, where he was diagnosed with an obstructed urethra and treated with an emergency surgery to remove bladder pressure.

The McFarlands filed a medical malpractice suit alleging negligence and vicarious liability against Fielding, Clarion Hospital and the obstetricians and their business. The plaintiffs specifically alleged that Myers and Matson were responsible for establishing and enforcing timely communication of radiology reports.

Following a seven-day trial, the jury found that the defendants did not breach their standard of care and rendered a defense verdict.

The plaintiffs filed post-trial motions, arguing, among other things, that they should have been granted summary judgment on negligence and vicarious liability due to the misfiling error. The motions, however, were denied.

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