Supreme Court rules for defendants in Cabell med-mal case

By Nathan Bass | Jul 15, 2013

CHARLESTON – The state Supreme Court has cleared two medical professionals of allegations of medical malpractice regarding the death of an 18-year-old woman from a blood clot.

The unanimous memorandum opinion affirming the order of Cabell County Circuit Court Judge David M. Pancake was filed on June 24.

The case arose from the death of 18-year-old Sara Bryanne Coleman on Aug. 16, 2004. It was determined that she had died as the result of a blood clot.

The mother and Administratrix of the Estate of Sara Bryanne Coleman, petitioner Theresa Coleman, filed a malpractice lawsuit against respondents Allan Chamberlain, M.D. and Patricia Hackney CNM, RN, on Aug. 15, 2006, and added Mitchell Nutt, M.D. as a defendant on June 7, 2007.

Theresa Coleman alleged that the blood clot that led to her daughter’s death was caused by oral contraceptives prescribed by the defendants. Sara Coleman was prescribed the contraceptives to control symptoms of irregular menses and dysmenorrhea.

The decedent had a known personal history of obesity and smoking and a family history of blood clots, pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis, the opinion says.

The respondents argued that the decedent fell on a trampoline two to three days prior to her death and this fall led to the fatal blood clot. They claimed that it had been approximately four weeks since she had ingested the last active oral contraceptive pill.

Sara Coleman complained of injury for two days after the fall and requested that her parents take her for medical care but they didn’t, the opinion says. Instead she was given Neurontin, which had been proscribed to her mother, to treat her pain.

Additionally, the decedent missed work for two days following the trampoline fall, complaining of back pain, and although she told her father on the morning of her death that she had passed out in the bathroom and had shortness of breath, he did not seek medical care for her, according to the opinion.

The trial was reset numerous times and Dr. Chamberlain was dismissed prior to trial after his motion for summary judgment was granted. On Nov. 15, 2011, a jury returned a defense verdict in favor of respondents Hackney and Nutt.

Theresa Coleman filed a motion for a new trial and an order denying the motion was entered by the circuit court on April 20, 2012. Coleman then appealed to the state Supreme Court alleging several assignments of error.

On appeal, the petitioner argued that the circuit court had erroneously applied a new statute to the case retroactively. This statute limits a health care provider’s liability to a patient as a result of the ingestion of approved prescription drugs.

The Court ruled that since the jury found that the defendants had not deviated from the medical statement of care, the jury had never reached the issue and it would not address the retroactivity of this code as it was unnecessary to decide the action before it.

“Petitioner alleges several other assignments of error,” the court wrote, “including that the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment to Allan Chamberlain, M.D. and erred in granting respondents’ request for a spoliation instruction, as the instruction offered was not a correct statement of law.

“Further, petitioner argues that the lower court erred in ruling that petitioner could not introduce testimony concerning a missing medical history form. Petitioner argues that the lower court erroneously granted a directed verdict on informed consent, and that the lower court erroneously denied petitioner the right to present evidence regarding respondents’ services provided to the decedent pursuant to their billing records.

“Additionally, petitioner argues that the circuit court erred in denying petitioner an opportunity to impeach the expert credentials of Respondent Hackney."

Theresa Coleman also argued that the circuit court erred in allowing the defense to strike an African-American juror.

“The circuit court reviewed each of petitioner’s contentions at length,” the opinion states.

“For example, with regard to the issue of informed consent, while the trial court initially ruled this issue would be presented to the jury, it directed a verdict in respondent’s favor on this issue. However, the circuit court explained in detail the reasons for its change of decision as well as the reasons for the timing of the same.

“With regard to the question of the opportunity to impeach the credentials of Respondent Hackney, the lower court did not limit petitioner’s ability to conduct voir dire relating to her status as an expert or her credentials, but it excluded information as to previous claims or as irrelevant.

“Similarly, the circuit court set out its extensive analysis of its rulings on any alleged billing irregularities, the striking of the African-American juror from the jury panel, the claim of spoliation of evidence, and each of the additional issues."

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