Appellate Court Overturns Defense Verdict in Massachusetts Informed Consent Medical Negligence Case

In Bradley v. Sugarbaker, a woman suffered scars on her lungs after she was involved in a car accident in 2002. Roughly two years later, the woman underwent a medical examination that revealed she may have lung cancer. The physician who performed the test was a thoracic surgeon. Shortly thereafter, the woman received a surgical biopsy to remove part of her lung tissue and to test it for cancer. Prior to the operation, the woman signed an informed consent document stating that she would receive a bronchoscopy, a mediastinoscopy, and a minithoracotomy.

The procedure commenced, and the thoracic surgeon ended up also performing a pulmonary wedge resection, which resulted in the sample containing a larger portion of lung that also included healthy lung tissue. According to the plaintiff’s medical records, the operation became “more extensive” as a result of the scarring on the woman’s lungs from previous trauma and surgery, and there were a number of air leaks as a result of the wedge resection.

A number of months later, the woman was diagnosed with several conditions, including a fungus in her chest, a bronchopleural fistula, a collapsed lung, a cough, and worsening pain in her arm. Eventually, the plaintiff was required to quit working due to the severity of her health conditions, and she was also required to receive a number of subsequent surgeries, as well as expensive anti-pain and anti-fungal medications.

The woman filed a lawsuit against the thoracic surgeon in federal court, alleging medical negligence, failure to obtain informed consent, and medical battery. According to her complaint, the thoracic surgeon chose to perform a major operation on the plaintiff by taking the wedge of tissue when a smaller tissue sample could have been obtained through a much less intrusive method. To prevail on an informed consent claim in Massachusetts, the plaintiff must show that the physician had a duty to disclose information to the plaintiff, that the physician failed to disclose the information, and that there was a causal link between the physician’s failure and the patient’s damages.

The defendant filed summary judgment, and the district court granted it as to the plaintiff’s claim for medical battery. The lower court denied the motion for summary judgment in relation to the plaintiff’s informed consent claim. The matter proceeded to trial, and the jury returned a verdict for the defense.

The plaintiff appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, and the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s ruling granting summary judgment against the plaintiff’s medical battery claim. According to the appellate court, however, the lower court erred when it excluded certain expert witness testimony regarding the availability of a viable, non-surgical procedure that could have been performed to obtain a tissue sample.

In reaching this conclusion, the appellate court discussed Massachusetts’ informed consent law, which provides that a competent adult can chose to opt out of medical treatment if he or she wishes, but this right is predicated on the patient receiving full knowledge of the treatment options available to him or her in addition to the risks that come with each option.

If you or someone you love have suffered injuries as the result of a doctor’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. At the Law Offices of John S. Moffa, our experienced, dedicated, and diligent medical malpractice lawyers have helped many victims throughout Massachusetts seek the compensation they deserve. Call us at 508-362-5554 or contact us online to set up a free consultation.

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