Thursday, June 9, 2016

Case of Apparent First Impression: Judge Gibbons of Lackawanna County Allows Direct Liability Med Mal Claim to Proceed Against Physicians Professional Group/Private Medical Practice

In a June 8, 2016 Opinion in the case of Astleford v. Delta Medix, No. 15-CV-5134 (C.P. Lacka. Co. 2016 Gibbons, J.), Judge James A. Gibbons of the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas issued what may be the first decision in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in which direct/corporate liability was extended to physicians professional groups or a private medical practice group, as opposed to vicarious liability.

This medical malpractice action arose out of allegations of negligent care provided to the Plaintiff during treatment for cancer.  In her Complaint, the Plaintiff made claims of both vicarious and direct liability against the treating doctor as well as the physicians professional group that participated in her care.

The case came before the court on Preliminary Objections filed by the defense, which the court granted in part and denied in part.

The Defendant's Preliminary Objections against the Plaintiff's claims for punitive damages were denied after the court noted that the law allows for such claims in medical malpractice cases where willful or wanton conduct, or reckless indifference to the rights of others is alleged on the part of a defendant as was found to have been alleged in this matter.

Judge James A. Gibbons
Lackawanna County
 
In his Opinion, Judge Gibbons extended the reasoning found in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court nursing home liability case of Scampone v. Highland Park Care Center, 57 A.3d 582 (Pa. 2012).  In Scampone, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court noted that a corporation, separate and apart from its agents, may owe a duty of care to maintain safe facilities and to oversee that its staff is competent.  See Astleford at p. 10.  The Scampone decision was also noted to stand for the proposition that were there was no legislation precluding liability under certain circumstances, a court was not prevented from recognizing the existence of potential liability under the law.

Judge Gibbons emphasized that the status of the case before him was at the preliminary objections stage and that, by denying the defense Preliminary Objections raised against the allegations of direct liability, the trial court was only ruling that the Plaintiff had properly pled a case of direct liability against the physicians professional group/private medical practice.  Judge Gibbons further stated that "[w]hether that claim survives is a question for another day."  See Astleford at p. 10.

The court in Astleford otherwise denied the defense demurrer to the Plaintiff's informed consent claim but sustained the defense demurrer to the Plaintiff's claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress where the Plaintiff did not alleged a physical injury from the alleged emotional harm as required by the elements of that cause of action.

Anyone wishing to review of a copy of this decision may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net.

I send thanks to Attorney Michael J. Foley of the Scranton Foley Law Firm for bringing this case to my attention.

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