Statutory Damage Limitation At Heart Of San Jose Medical Malpractice Action, Part 5 of 7

The following blog entry is written from a defendant’s position as trial approaches. Reviewing this kind of briefing should help potential plaintiffs and clients better understand how parties present such issues to the court.

(Please note: the names and locations of all parties have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the participants in this medical malpractice/personal injury case and its proceedings.)

In Burgess, Julia Burgess filed a medical malpractice action against obstetrician Gupta and a hospital after her child suffered permanent brain and nervous system damage during delivery. Defendants moved for summary adjudication of the mother’s NIED claim. They argued that the mother could not recover damages for emotional distress because she did not contemporaneously observe the baby’s injuries as required for recovery in a bystander situation. (Burgess, supra, 2 Cal.4th 1064 at 1069-1071.)

The trial court granted defendants’ motion. The appeal court vacated the order on a writ of mandamus. The Supreme Court modified the appeal court opinion, holding: Burgess is permitted to recover damages as a result of the breach of the duty of care arising from the physician-patient relationship between Gupta and Burgess. Gupta’s negligent breach of this duty is sufficient to satisfy the elements of a claim alleged for professional malpractice on Burgess’s behalf. (2 Cal.4th 1064 at 1078. )

The precise question in Burgess was:

Can a mother recover damages for negligently inflicted emotional distress against a physician who entered into a physician-patient relationship with her for care during labor and delivery if her child is injured during the course of delivery? (2 Cal.4th 1064 at 1069.)

The justices made very clear that Burgess’s staniing to claim NIED damages was based on her status as a traditional’ plaintiff with a professional negligence cause of action, arising from the relationship of physician-patient between [her] and the defendant doctor. (2 Cal.4th 1064 at 1075, italics added.) As Burgess explained:

[O]nce the scope of the duty of care assumed by Gupta to Burgess is understood, Burgess’s claim for emotional distress damages may simply be viewed as an ordinary professional malpractice claim, which seeks as an element of damage compensation for her serious emotional distress. (Id. at 1077, italics added.)]

The Burgess court addressed the consequences of the imposition of liability against obstetrician Gupta by noting that MICRA would hold the damages in check. (See Part 6 of 7.)

For more information you are welcome to contact personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.

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