High Court Reinstates Medical Malpractice Jury Verdict

Raymond Grove underwent a six hour cardiac surgery performed by Dr. Leone. Dr. Leone remained Grove’s primary physician until Dr. Leone left for Christmas vacation December 25, when a second doctor, and then a few days later a third, took over.

Grove had a difficult recovery from surgery. He developed pneumonia and a blood infection. He was intubated from December 23 to December 26. A disease specialist was brought in to treat him.

By December 29 Grove’s left calf was swollen, and his ability to bend his joints was weak in both ankles. Two doctors suspected a bacterial infection, although Grove was already on antibiotics.

By December 31, Grove could not fully flex his left foot and dragged his left toe. One of his doctors then suspected compartment syndrome, a complication from lengthy surgery, and testing confirmed compartment syndrome.

Compartment syndrome can result in irreversible damage, but is curable if detected early. Grove had surgery to relieve the compartment syndrome. It was too late. He suffered serious permanent injury to his left leg.

Grove sued the hospital and various doctors. The defendant surgeons testified that the hospital provided medical care on a team basis, consisting of surgeons, physician assistants, nurses, students, and other hospital staff making rounds more than once per day so that physicians and staff were kept apprised of the patient’s condition.

Grove’s experts testified that the medical care provided fell below the standard of care because of inadequate monitoring and failure to rule out a known possible post-operation complication. They testified that Dr. Leone was responsible as team leader, and that with proper monitoring Grove’s compartment syndrome should have been detected earlier.

A jury returned a verdict of $583,000. The trial judge granted a motion to overturn the judgment on the argument that Grove had failed to prove any particular hospital employee breached the standard of care. The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court.[1]  The Washington Supreme Court reversed, and ordered the jury verdict reinstated.[2]

Medical malpractice claims in Washington are generally governed by statute.[3] Someone seeking damages for medical malpractice must prove that an “injury resulted from the failure of a health care provider to follow the accepted standard of care.”[4]  The statutory definition of “health care provider” includes any “entity” employing physicians, physician assistants, nurses, and other defined medical professionals.

The trial court reasoned that Grove failed to prove that the standard of care had been breached by any one individual member of the hospital’s team.

The Court of Appeals reasoned that the medical malpractice statutes require expert testimony in order to establish the standard of care applicable to ‘a health care provider’ as a member of a particular ‘profession or class.’

The Supreme Court noted that Grove’s experts identified Dr. Grove as individually negligent. One of his experts also identified the initial onset of Grove’s compartment syndrome as likely occurring when Grove was reintubated in the intensive care unit.  Dr. Leone was the primary physician for most of this period, before leaving for vacation, and remained Grove’s physician of record until Grove was ultimately released from the hospital..

Therefore, the jury could conclude based on this evidence that Dr. Leone breached the standard of care, and that the hospital was therefore vicariously liable.

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Travis Eller, personal injury attorney


[1] Grove v. PeaceHealth St. Joseph Hosp., 177 Wn. App. 370, 312 P.3d 66 (2013).

[2] Grove v. PeaceHealth St. Joseph Hosp., ____ Wn. 2d ____ (No. 89902-9 December 11, 2014).

[3] RCW 7.70.010.

[4] RCW 7.70.030(1).

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