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Office clerk's misfiling results in medical malpractice suit

Medical professionals are required not only to practice medicine to the industry standards within the community, but also ensure that their employees and staff perform to this standard.  When a medical professional fails to perform in accordance with the standard of care a medical malpractice suit is often filed by the individual harmed. 

Recently, a Clarion County, Pennsylvania doctors' office found out the hard way that they as doctors, may be held accountable for the mistakes of their office staff. The case involved a woman, who at 37 weeks pregnant, was ordered by the defendant doctors to obtain an ultrasound.  An independent doctor interpreting the ultrasound found a large cyst on the unborn baby's kidney and recorded the presence of the cyst in a written report.  The report was transmitted to the defendant doctors' via hospital mail.  It was undisputed at trial that upon receipt of the report by the defendant doctors, it was misfiled by their clerk.   Unfortunately the woman gave birth before the report was seen by her treating doctors.  Shortly after the child was born, he was admitted to the hospital for medical complications.  At the time of admission a second ultrasound was taken, the cyst was spotted once again.  The child underwent emergency surgery. 

Not surprisingly, the parents filed a medical malpractice suit against the doctors' for, among other things, their failure to establish and maintain timely communication of the results of radiology reports such as the ultrasound report.  The case was tried before a jury in Clarion County.  Shockingly, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant doctors.  The jury determined that the doctors were not responsible for the clerk's mistake. 

The parents filed an appeal to the Superior Court.  The Superior Court overturned the jury's verdict, stating that the jury's decision was clearly erroneous in light of the undisputed evidence of the clerk's error.  The error clearly established that the doctors were negligent in establishing proper office procedures concerning radiology reports.  As a result of the filing error the ultrasound report was not reviewed in an acceptable timeframe.  The case has been sent back to the trial court for trial only against the doctors to determine causation, liability, and damages.

Source:  "Admitted Clerical Negligence Sends Med Mal Case Back to Trial Court" by Max Mitchell, The Legal Intelligencer, January 14, 2014

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