Cincinnati, Ohio (February 21, 2024) - The Kentucky Supreme Court recently handed down a pair of opinions providing significant guidance for parties to medical malpractice cases. Here, two of Lewis Brisbois' partners explore the key takeaways from these decisions for medical providers.

Saint Elizabeth Medical Center Inc. v. Ronald N. Arnsperger Jr.

(Rejecting Plaintiff's Experts on Causation)

By Craig M. Schneider

The Kentucky Supreme Court on January 18 rendered a "to be published" opinion in a medical malpractice case, reinstating a trial court's grant of summary judgment to a hospital based on the plaintiff's lack of expert testimony to establish causation between an incident at the hospital and his injury.

In the case, Saint Elizabeth Medical Center Inc. v. Ronald N. Arnsperger Jr. (2022-SC-0302-DG), the plaintiff was a baseball umpire with an extensive medical history involving his left ankle. He had been diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome and then injured the ankle while umpiring. He and his doctor agreed that a surgical repair was necessary.

The surgery did not go as planned. There was some hope that the surgery would suffice to heal the plaintiff. Four days after the surgery, when the plaintiff arrived to the hospital for x-rays, a hospital staffer greeted him with a wheelchair. While navigating the hospital an incident occurred in which the plaintiff's extended left ankle made contact with a desk. The plaintiff underwent a second surgery six days later.

The plaintiff then filed suit against the hospital and alleged that the desk incident fractured his ankle and dislodged hardware that had been placed during the first surgery. He identified two experts: his previous pain management doctor and the surgeon who operated on his left ankle. Neither doctor could provide an opinion that the desk incident caused the plaintiff's injuries. The Kentucky Supreme Court held that this was fatal to the plaintiff's claims. While expert testimony would not be required to establish the standard of care for a hospital staffer pushing a wheelchair-bound patient, causation between the desk incident and a complex injury had to be established by expert testimony.

This case will serve as important authority for analyzing whether sufficient evidence exists to prove all elements of a Kentucky medical malpractice case to allow the case to be tried to a jury.

Sanchez v. McMillin

(Mandating Strict Compliance with Affidavit of Merit Requirements)

By Aimee E. Muller

On February 15, the Kentucky Supreme Court dealt a big win to medical providers defending themselves in medical malpractice cases in the case of Sanchez v. McMillin (2022-SC-0272-DG) by holding plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases to a strict compliance standard with KRS 411.167, Kentucky's Affidavit of Merit statute.

Kentucky enacted its Affidavit of Merit Statute in 2019, which provided a list of requirements for Affidavits of Merit in a medical malpractice case. From 2019 through 2024 it was an unsettled area of Kentucky law whether strict compliance with the statute was required or whether substantial compliance was sufficient.

The plaintiff in Sanchez argued that even though he did not provide a signed affidavit as set forth in the statute, he did complete interrogatory responses indicating that a medical professional had reviewed the case and opined that it had merit. The Kentucky Supreme Court found this approach to compliance with KRS 411.167 woefully lacking.

Ultimately, the Kentucky Supreme Court held strict compliance with the statute is required. Now, if a plaintiff fails to strictly comply with the Affidavit of Merit requirements, their only hope to avoid dismissal with prejudice is to prove excusable neglect.

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