New Mexico Court of Appeals Rules on Unique Wrongful Death Case

The New Mexico Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion in Richter v. Presbyterian Healthcare Services, et al., which addressed several trial court rulings both in favor of the deceased’s estate and in favor of the defendants. The deceased died from heart arrhythmia caused by an undiagnosed condition called pheochromocytoma. Following the death, the parties discovered lab results from tests ordered four years prior that would have revealed the condition that led to her death on the operating table. The deceased’s estate filed against the two separate labs, the hospital, and the treating physicians treating the patient at the time of her death. The estate alleged that the labs and the hospital were negligent in the delayed transmission of the lab results and medical negligence on the part of the treating physicians.

The original treating physicians requested lab testing to see if she might have pheochromocytoma. The first lab was responsible for processing the sample and returning the sample to the hospital to the treating physicians. Because the first lab did not perform the particular type of testing requested by the doctor, the first lab sent the sample to a second lab. The second lab’s results showed extremely high levels of catecholamine, which were indicative of life threatening illnesses and neuroendocrine tumors. These were diagnostic of pheochromocytoma, the condition that led to the patient’s death. The tests from the 2nd lab were conducted over the weekend, but the first lab did not obtain the results till early Monday morning. Records indicate the results were delivered to the hospital in the late morning, but there was no confirmation whether they were delivered that day or the next day. The patient was discharged Monday afternoon, and accompanying paperwork indicated the lab results were still pending.

The deceased estate’s suit originally argued that the suit against the labs could move forward under an “ordinary negligence” theory rather than medical malpractice. In New Mexico, the injured or deceased’s estate must establish their claim through expert testimony for any medical malpractice action. The trial court and Court of Appeals both agreed that the failure to timely deliver the results did not require the use of special knowledge and skill, and negligence could be determined by common knowledge by an ordinary person. Likewise, the Court also found that the hospital’s obligation to keep medical charts in good order did not require the testimony of a medical expert using his or her specialized knowledge. The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision to apply the standard of ordinary negligence to the labs and the hospital in the deceased estate’s case. The Court of Appeals also reversed the summary judgment in favor of the lab, citing that there was enough evidence to support a finding of negligence that the lab failed to deliver the results to all the physicians who should have received them.

Having a knowledgeable, aggressive medical malpractice attorney at your side is necessary when pursuing a personal injury or wrongful death action. The New Mexico medical malpractice attorneys at Parnall Law Firm are here to assist you with your case and hold the at-fault parties accountable. If you would like to receive a free, confidential consultation to see what legal course of action is needed to maximize your recover, contact us online or call today at 505-268-6500.