Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice
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Relatives of Saldana, who died from COVID-19 at Glenhaven nursing home, sued Glenhaven in California state court, alleging state-law causes of action. Glenhaven removed the case to federal court. The Ninth Circuit affirmed a remand to state court,The district court lacked jurisdiction under the federal officer removal statute, 28 U.S.C. 1442, because Glenhaven did not act under a federal officer or agency’s directions when it complied with mandatory directives from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Health and Human Services.The claims were not completely preempted by the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, which provides immunity from suit when the HHS Secretary determines that a threat to health constitutes a public health emergency, but provides an exception for an exclusive federal cause of action for willful misconduct. A March 2020 declaration under the Act provided "liability immunity for activities related to medical countermeasures against COVID-19.” The Act does not displace non-willful misconduct claims related to the public health emergency, nor did it provide substitute causes of action. The federal scheme was not so comprehensive that it entirely supplanted state law claims.The district court did not have jurisdiction under the embedded federal question doctrine, which applies if a federal issue is necessarily raised, actually disputed, substantial, and capable of resolution in federal court without disrupting the federal-state balance approved by Congress. View "Saldana v. Glenhaven Healthcare LLC" on Justia Law

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Pacheco received Depo-Provera injections from NeighborCare, a federally-qualified community health center. Depo-Provera is a highly effective contraceptive that requires injections every 11-13 weeks. Pacheco visited NeigborCare in September 2011, for an “on-time” injection. A NeighborCare employee instead injected Pacheco with a flu vaccine. Pacheco alleges that she did not consent to a flu shot and did not learn that she received a flu shot instead of her scheduled injection until she called NeighborCare for her next injection. Pacheco's child, S.L.P., was born with epilepsy and bilateral perisylvian polymicrogyria, which contributes to neurological delays.The district court found that Rodriguez failed to meet the minimum standard of care and that the unwanted pregnancy, birth, and medical expenses associated with S.L.P.'s condition were foreseeable consequences caused by the negligence and awarded $10,042,294.81.The Ninth Circuit noted that the negligently performed procedure here was not “intended to prevent the birth of a defective child,” but to “prevent the birth of an unwanted child,” so this case lies outside the duty imposed on healthcare providers to assume responsibility when they encumber parents’ rights by failing to adequately complete procedures to prevent the births of defective children. The court certified the question to the Washington Supreme Court: Under claims for wrongful birth or wrongful life, does Washington law allow extraordinary damages for costs associated with raising a child with birth defects when defendants negligently provided contraceptive care even though plaintiffs did not seek contraceptives to prevent conceiving a child later born with birth defects? View "Pacheco v. United States" on Justia Law

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Hawkins, a Navy veteran, suffered a mental breakdown at work. She was escorted from her workplace in handcuffs and hospitalized for observation. She sought follow-up psychiatric care at a VA hospital. According to Hawkins, the VA doctors who treated her negligently failed to prescribe medication to address severe insomnia and anxiety, despite her complaints that the antidepressant she had been prescribed was not helping. Hawkins suffered another psychotic break during which she attacked and seriously wounded her mother. Hawkins spent a year in jail, lost her job as an RN, and has been unable to return to work.Hawkins sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), alleging medical malpractice. Hawkins claimed that her mental breakdown, which prompted her to seek medical care, was caused by years of workplace bullying and harassment by her supervisor. The Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. The Federal Employees’ Compensation Act, 5 U.S.C. 8101(1), bars a suit against the government for damages under any other law, including the FTCA. Before filing this action, Hawkins pursued a claim under FECA; the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs determined that the alleged workplace bullying and harassment did not occur. If the OWCP had determined that the injury for which Hawkins sought medical care was sustained during the course of her employment, her FTCA action would have been barred. View "Hawkins v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's tort action against the United States for the tragic death of his wife. Plaintiff's wife was a lieutenant in the Navy and she died due to a complication following childbirth. The panel held that plaintiff's medical malpractice claims were barred under the Feres doctrine, which provided governmental immunity from tort claims involving injuries to service members that were incident to military service. View "Daniel v. United States" on Justia Law

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The district court erred in dismissing for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction plaintiff's administratively exhausted Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 1346, claim following the United States' second removal. In this case, plaintiff filed a medical malpractice suit against his medical providers, alleging that his mother had died of postpartum hemmorhage shortly after giving birth to him. The district court concluded that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's claims arising from Dr. Bencomo's actions, dismissed those claims without prejudice, and once again remanded the state claims against the individual defendants. The Ninth Circuit held that plaintiff's initial failure to exhaust his administrative remedies as to Dr. Bencomo whom plaintiff reasonably did not know was covered by the FTCA deprived the federal courts of subject-matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's FTCA claim even after plaintiff dismissed his initial suit against Dr. Bencomo, and then exhausted his administrative remedies before amending his complaint in state court to add Dr. Bencomo again. View "D. L. V. United States" on Justia Law

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Brian Fitzgerald appealed for a second time the district court's award to him of $33,333 in quantum meruit - for his services in a medical malpractice case appellee had settled on behalf of Wende Nostro, a client Fitzgerald had referred to appellee - based on the unjust enrichment he conferred on appellee. The court held that the initial measure of Fitzgerald's quantum meruit award was one-third of appellee's $500,000 recovery from the Nostro settlement, or $166,666. The court further held that the $166,666 amount should be reduced to the extent Fitzgerald decreased the overall value to appellee of the Nostro case. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's order and remanded with instructions that the district court enter a final quantum meruit award of $100,000 for Fitzgerald.

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After his unsuccessful cataract surgery, plaintiff brought a claim for battery against the United States government and his United States Navy surgeon. The United States invoked the Gonzalez Act, 10 U.S.C. 1089, immunizing individual military medical personnel from malpractice liability. At issue was whether section 1089(e) waived the government's sovereign immunity for common law battery claims. The court held that it did not and affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The court did not address plaintiff's remaining claims.