Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court recently decided a medical malpractice case resting on a claim that a man’s original misdiagnosis delayed his treatment and caused serious complications. According to the court’s opinion, in August 2012, the plaintiff had had a polyp surgically removed from his colon less than a week before he went to the emergency room at a Maine hospital complaining of abdominal pain. He was seen by the on-call surgeon, who ordered a CT scan. The next morning, a radiologist reviewed the results of the scan and found there were no findings that suggested an anastomotic leak. Later that night, based on the plaintiff’s condition, another surgeon decided emergency surgery had to be conducted, and in the course of that surgery, discovered a small anastomotic leak. The plaintiff was hospitalized and intubated, developed deep venous thrombosis, and had a stroke during his hospitalization.
The plaintiff and his wife filed a medical malpractice claim against the radiologist who interpreted the CT scan, the first on-call surgeon, and the hospital. They alleged that if the anastomotic leak had been identified and treated the night he went to the hospital, he could have avoided many of the resulting complications. A trial court found that the plaintiffs could not prove the claim against the hospital and the radiologist, and a jury found in the surgeon’s favor, and the plaintiffs appealed. They argued that the court should not have found in favor of the radiologist and that a jury could have found that the radiologist was negligent in reading the CT scan, and that his negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
To prove the elements of a medical malpractice claim, the court explained, a plaintiff must show that the defendant departed from a recognized standard of care, proximately causing the plaintiff’s injury. To establish proximate cause in the medical malpractice claim, the evidence must show that the defendant’s’ conduct played a substantial part in causing the injury, and the injury was either a direct result or a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the conduct. The appeals court found that the record was devoid of evidence showing what role the radiologist’s reading of the CT scan played in the development of the man’s complications. Therefore, there was no evidence linking the radiologist’s conduct to the injury that related to the delay in time and the complications he suffered. For that reason, a verdict would have been based on mere speculation in finding that the radiologist’s conduct was the proximate cause of the man’s injuries.