Recently, the Supreme Judicial Court issued an opinion in a complex federal and state Maine medical malpractice case. The case arose following injuries a patient suffered during a 2013 surgery to her rotator cuff. The patient argued that the medical provider diagnosed her and suggested surgery, without addressing how the patient’s Tourette’s Syndrome would affect the doctor’s surgical approach. During the patient’s informed consent process, the orthopedic practice providers did not advise her that if the doctor found a rotator cuff tear, he would not repair it because the surgery would be “guaranteed to fail.” The doctor discovered a tear during surgery and did not repair the cuff. The patient continued to experience pain and ultimately underwent surgery in 2015 and 2018 with another provider to repair her rotator cuff.
In 2016, under the Maine Health Security Act (MHSA), the patient filed a notice of claim for negligence, failure to obtain informed consent, failure to repair, and failure to obtain an MRI, against the medical provider. Additionally, she filed a federal discrimination case against the doctor based on a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). She alleged that the doctor treated her disrespectfully, rudely, and in an insulting manner. In 2018, the prelitigation panel found that the medical provider was not negligent. After the federal court dismissed the plaintiff’s malpractice case, the plaintiff filed the complaint in a state action. The defendant moved to dismiss the case based on claim preclusion.
A party may move to bar litigation under claim preclusion if there were issues that could have been litigated in the original action under the original claim. In this case, the court found that it was unclear whether claim preclusion bars the plaintiff’s state malpractice case. Therefore, the court addressed the threshold issue of whether they should reach the appeal’s merits. Under the final judgment rule, appellate courts will only hear appeals from “final” judgments in a case, and parties cannot appeal rulings while the case is still ongoing. However, a judicial economy exception exists, in cases where an appellate review can establish a final disposition. Courts generally invoke this exception in unique situations such as when there are multiple pending proceedings or exceedingly long litigation.