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Federal Decision Regarding New Mexico Medical Malpractice Covers Elements of a Negligence Suit

Federal Decision Regarding New Mexico Medical Malpractice Covers Elements of a Negligence Suit

When you entrust your loved one to a New Mexico licensed care facility for elder care or other long-term medical assistance, you expect the staff and medical providers to operate with the highest level of care when treating your family member. New Mexico requires staff at these facilities to conduct a full assessment of the patient’s health and enact a plan that meets the level of care that is needed. If the staff or providers fail to maintain the necessary care mandated by law, and an injury or death results from this negligence, the facility can be held responsible for the damages that result from the injuries or death.

In prior blog posts, we have written about the elements of a civil action: duty, breach, causation, and damages. A recent 10th Circuit case, Holley v. Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, focused on the causation element. The deceased was a patient at a long-term care facility in New Mexico following a catastrophic hang-gliding accident where he suffered severe head and neck injuries. The patient was a quadriplegic and unable to to move outside of blinking and smiling. Occasionally, his body was subject to involuntary movements when he coughed, seized, or had muscle spasms. His condition required his headboard be raised at a 45-degree angle when he was in bed, and that he be placed on his back or right side.

For the first 12 years of his care, bed rails were used to prevent the patient from falling out of bed. Then, the facility became “restraint-free,” and the patient was placed on a bed closer to the floor with mats on either side to protect him if he rolled or fell off the bed during one of his involuntary movements. The patient rolled out of bed on six occasions in the first four years of this policy, and he then went another four and a half years without falling. On the night of the fatal fall, the patient fell out of bed twice in a span of five minutes, falling onto the mat and asphyxiating. The patient’s sister, as personal representative of his estate, and his mother filed a wrongful death and loss of consortium claim, alleging that the medical facility caused his death.

The Court of Appeals reviewed the magistrate judge’s decision to grant the long-term care facility’s motion for summary judgment. The judge adopted the opinion of the plaintiff’s witness, a registered nurse, who testified that it was the long-term care facility’s duty to respond to his multiple falls, analyze and assess the cause, and then put appropriate action into place to ensure the patient was safe. Both the judge and Court of Appeals agreed that the nurse established the hospital’s duty to the patient but didn’t help show how this was the proximate cause of the patient’s death.

To show whether the at-fault party was responsible for the accident, an injured party must show in its initial pleadings that there is enough evidence for a jury to find by a preponderance of the evidence that the at-fault party’s failure to uphold its duty under the law caused the injury or death. In New Mexico, expert testimony is required in most medical malpractice suits, since medical malpractice usually involves technical and specialized subject matter. The Court of Appeals focused on the absence of an opinion on the cause of death by the registered nurse. The estate did not provide any other qualified witnesses to link the facility’s actions to the death. The estate argued that a specialized witness was not necessary with these facts, but the Court of Appeals focused on the need of expert witnesses to explain medical malpractice under New Mexico law. Based on the lack of expert testimony under New Mexico law, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s summary judgment.

In New Mexico nursing home negligence cases, it is vital to have an attorney with the medical malpractice knowledge to aggressively pursue your case. The medical malpractice lawyers at Parnall Law Firm, LLC have the litigation experience you need. For a free, confidential consultation today, call our office at 505-332-BERT.