Massachusetts Court of Appeals Rejects Breach of Contract Suit Against Hospital, Holding that Claim Should Have Been Pursued as Medical Malpractice Instead

When a patient is dissatisfied with treatment received from a doctor, hospital, or other medical provider, he or she may have a claim for medical malpractice. An experienced Cape Cod medical malpractice attorney can explain the process of asserting such a claim.

In some instances, there may be the possibility of some other type of legal course, as well. However, such situations are the exception rather the rule.

In a medical malpractice lawsuit, the burden of proof rests on the plaintiff. In order to prevail on a claim for malpractice against an allegedly negligent health care provider, the plaintiff must be able to present proof that the defendant breached the applicable standard of care and that this was the proximate cause of the damages for which the plaintiff seeks monetary compensation.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent case was a woman who underwent a treatment called “deep brain stimulation” at the defendant hospital in 2012. During the treatment, a battery-operated device was implanted in the plaintiff’s brain. Because the plaintiff’s health insurance would not cover the procedure and she could not afford it on her own, the defendant agreed to absorb the costs of the plaintiff’s care at their facility. At the time, the defendant hoped to expand its psychosurgery program and may have planned to use the plaintiff’s case to promote the program.

Although the plaintiff was initially pleased with the result of the treatment at the defendant’s facility, over time several disputes arose between parties. The disagreement culminated in the plaintiff filing a lawsuit against the defendant, asserting claims for breach of contract, misrepresentation, violation of Massachusetts General Laws ch. 93A, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and promissory estoppel. After discovery was completed, the defendant filed a motion seeking summary judgment on all of the plaintiff’s claims. The trial court ruled in the defendant’s favor, and the plaintiff appealed.

The Court of Appeals’ Decision

The Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling. On appeal, the plaintiff pursued only her claims for breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims, voluntarily abandoning the other aspects of her case. In asking the appellate court to reverse the lower tribunal’s summary judgment order in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff argued that a jury could have found that the defendant breached its promise to pay for her care by implanting a standard battery, rather than a rechargeable, during her follow-up care; by refusing to pay for her care at a different hospital; and/or by failing to ensure independent ethical oversight of her treatment. She also argued that her claims did not sound in medical malpractice insomuch as her treatment was experimental in nature and because the defendant’s decision to extend her free medical care was motivated by its own financial incentives.

The reviewing court disagreed with the plaintiff’s contentions on appeal, holding that her claims should have taken the form of a complaint for medical malpractice rather than a breach of contract claim. According to the court, when a trial judge was faced with a claim against a health care provider, he or she should look to the substance of the plaintiff’s allegations rather than the label that the plaintiff chooses to place on his or her claim. Here, the gravamen of the plaintiff’s complaint concerned the medical judgment exercised by the defendant; therefore, the plaintiff should have pursued a claim for medical negligence rather than breach of contract.

Have Questions About a Medical Malpractice Claim?

If you need to talk to an experienced medical malpractice lawyer about a possible case, please call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III at 888-262-6664. Our offices also handle other types of personal injury and wrongful death cases in and around the Cape Cod region.

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