Claim Preclusion Between Two Lawsuits Results in Dismissal of Medical Malpractice Case by Massachusetts Appeals Court

There are many procedural hoops that must be jumped through in order for a person injured by an act of medical negligence to be successful in a Cape Cod medical malpractice lawsuit. While potential pitfalls are common in the area of negligence law, this is particularly so in claims against doctors, hospitals, nurses, and so on. Unfortunately, this sometimes means that an otherwise valid (and potentially very valuable) claim falls through the cracks due to a technicality.

Facts of the Case

In a recent (unreported) Massachusetts Appeals Court case, the plaintiff was a woman who sought compensation for the alleged medical malpractice of several defendants related to complications from gallbladder removal surgery she underwent in 2013. In an earlier case, the plaintiff (on her own behalf and on the behalf of her two minor children) asserted claims against a hospital, a surgeon, and two “John Doe” (unknown) defendants, claiming that she had suffered a bile duct injury during her surgery that required her to undergo several other (otherwise unnecessary) medical procedures later. That case was dismissed by the medical malpractice tribunal on the ground that the plaintiff had not provided sufficient evidence to raise a legitimate question of liability, and the plaintiff’s complaint was dismissed with prejudice.

The plaintiff then filed a second complaint, again seeking damages for injuries related to her gallbladder surgery but naming as additional defendants a physician’s assistant and two physicians who provided postoperative care in the hospital. The trial court judge dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint on the ground of claim preclusion. She appealed the dismissal as to the three new defendants in the action.

Decision of the Court

The Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case. Although the plaintiff argued on appeal that her claims against the three defendants who were not named in the first case were not precluded in the second case, the appeals court opined otherwise. According to the court, the plaintiff had “pleaded herself out of court on this issue” by averring in her complaint that these defendants acted as “employees, agents or servants” of the hospital named as a defendant in both cases and that their allegedly negligent conduct occurred while they were treating the plaintiff at the hospital.

In so holding, the court noted that there are three requirements for claim preclusion:  1) privity of the parties to the respective actions; 2) identity of the cause of action; and 3) a prior final judgment on the merits. The second and third requirements were clearly met here, according to the appeals court. Despite the plaintiff’s arguments to the contrary, the court also found that the element of privity was met because the relationship between the parties in the two cases was sufficiently close to afford the application of the principle of preclusion.

It should be noted that the plaintiff’s claim could potentially have been saved had she provided more proof of the alleged medical negligence in her first case or if she had filed the statutorily required bond within 30 days in that case.

For More Information About a Cape Cod Malpractice Case

Instances of medical negligence happen with much more frequency than the general public realizes. If you or someone close to you has been hurt by an error or mistake made by a health care professional, you could be entitled to substantial money damages. To schedule a free consultation with an experienced Cape Cod medical malpractice lawyer, call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, at 888-262-6664 today. With offices in Hyannis and Plymouth, we serve the entire Cape Cod area. If necessary, we can also arrange to come to your home or hospital room.

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