A woman underwent surgery at a medical center. She was injured when she fell from the operating table either while or after being extubated. Three years after the injury, she sued the anesthesiologist and assistant surgeon.
The anesthesiologist moved to dismiss the complaint as untimely, maintaining that the action sounded in medical malpractice and was barred by the 2 1/2-year statute of limitations. The woman cross-moved to amend the complaint to delete any reference to “the standards of the medical profession.” The assistant surgeon cross-moved to dismiss the complaint as untimely under the medical malpractice statute of limitations. The Albany County Supreme Court denied the woman's cross motion to amend and granted the motion and cross motion of the anesthesiologist and assistant surgeon dismissing the complaint.
The Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court, Third Department, reversed the trial court’s grant of the anesthesiologist’s and assistant surgeon's motions to dismiss based on statute of limitations grounds and denial of the woman's cross motion to amend the complaint. The court held that the record did not contain enough factual information to determine whether the complaint sounded in medical malpractice such that it was subject to a 2 1/2-year statute of limitations, which would make it untimely, or whether it alleged personal injury claims based on ordinary negligence that were subject to a three-year statute of limitations.
Conduct may be deemed malpractice, rather than negligence, when it constituted medical treatment or bore a substantial relationship to the rendition of medical treatment by a licensed physician. The court noted that the complaint contained some language that generally refers to malpractice, such as that the action arose from a surgery, that the woman was owed a duty by the anesthesiologist and assistant surgeon to use the due care of medical specialists in performing the surgery, and that the woman fell after she was extubated by the anesthesiologist or while extubated by him. Some of the medical records also indicate that the woman's fall from the operating table may have been substantially related to the rendition of medical treatment. However, one medical note indicated that the woman rolled off the table due to the failure to remove an obstruction that prevented a stretcher from being placed next to the operating table.
The court reasoned that the woman's causes of action would sound in medical malpractice if she fell off the table due to improper pressure or movement in the removal of the breathing tube, or the failure to properly evaluate her safety and restraint needs while she was under anesthesia. On the other hand, her causes of action would sound in ordinary negligence if she never received any safety assessment, if the hospital staff failed to remove an obstruction between the operating table and stretcher and allowed her to fall between them, or if she was simply dropped by the staff members when they were transferring her from the operating table to the stretcher.
The Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court, Third Department, reversed the trial court’s grant of the anesthesiologist’s and assistant surgeon's motions to dismiss based on statute of limitations grounds and denial of the woman's cross motion to amend the complaint. The court required that the plaintiff serve any amended complaint within 20 days of the date of the decision.
See: Newell v. Ellis Hosp., 2014 WL 1698375, 2014 N.Y. Slip Op. 02992 (N.Y.A.D. 3 Dept., May 01, 2014) (not designated for publication).
See also Medical Law Perspectives, August 2012 Report: Anesthesiology Errors: Complications, Malpractice, and Catastrophe