North Carolina Appellate Court Affirms Directed Verdict for Defendant When Plaintiff Failed to Prove Essential Element of Case

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In a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit in which a victim of an act of negligence seeks to recover monetary compensation for damages such as lost wages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove his or her case by a preponderance of the evidence.

Doing so requires a great deal of skill, effort, and perseverance. Sometimes, despite the plaintiff’s best efforts, an injury or death case may fail for lack of proof as to one or more elements of negligence.

Facts of the Case

In a recently decided case from the Court of Appeals of North Carolina, the plaintiff was the administratrix of the estate of a man who presented to an emergency room for pain related to an inherited blood disorder known as sickle cell anemia but was sent home because he “did not appear overtly ill,” and his “vital signs were normal.” He died two days later, after having finally been admitted to the hospital for life-threatening complications of his condition. The plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against multiple defendants, including the hospital and several health care providers who were allegedly involved in the decedent’s care. Some of the defendants were dismissed from the case, and the remaining claims proceeded to a trial by jury.

The trial court directed a verdict in favor of the hospital, and the jury returned a defense verdict as to the remaining claims. The plaintiff appealed.

Disposition of the Issues

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court committed a reversible error when it dismissed her claim that the hospital was negligent in its x-ray over-read discrepancy review policy. The appellate court disagreed and affirmed the lower court’s decision. In so holding, the court first observed that, for a medical malpractice case to survive a motion for a directed verdict, the plaintiff must establish four elements:  the standard of care, a breach of that standard, proximate causation, and damages; failure to make a prima facie evidentiary showing as to even a single element is fatal to a medical negligence claim. Furthermore, under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 90-21.12(a), expert testimony is required in order to prove the applicable standard of care.

The plaintiff’s claim against the hospital was based on the allegation that it breached the standard of care owed to the decedent because, unless a radiologist found a discrepancy that appeared to require urgent treatment, it could be 24 hours between the time that an ER doctor reviewed an x-ray and the time that a copy of the radiologist’s description of an over-read showed a discrepancy. Since the court found that the expert witness proffered by the plaintiff on this issue did not offer testimony establishing either the standard of care or the hospital’s alleged breach of this standard, the plaintiff’s case failed.

Talk to a Raleigh Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Attorney

When a loved one perishes because of an act of negligence, the family and estate of the deceased person may be able to pursue financial compensation. At Nagle & Associates, we regularly handle wrongful death cases in and around Raleigh, as well as elsewhere in the state of North Carolina. Call us at 800-411-1583 to schedule an appointment to dismiss your case; there is no charge for the call or the consultation, and most cases are accepted on a contingency fee basis. (No legal fees are collected unless the case results in a favorable judgement or settlement.)

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