The Idaho Supreme Court has ruled that an Idaho family will have another chance to prove that a hospital is vicariously liable for the actions of doctors because a lower court improperly excluded its expert witness testimony.
In May 2015, Duane Dlouhy went to the emergency room at Kootenai Health because of rectal bleeding. Dr. Robert Seeley performed a CT scan on Dlouhy and found “no obvious mass,” but noted the presence of “dark red blood.” A radiologist noted that a “neoplasm could not be excluded.” Dlouhy was discharged from the hospital.
Just hours later, Dlouhy went back to the hospital when the rectal bleeding resumed and his wife found him passed out in the bathroom. Another doctor saw Dlouhy and noted that the CT scan that had been performed earlier that day revealed “some thickening of the lateral aspect of the rectum.” Dr. Michael James performed a colonoscopy on Dlouhy but was unable to get a complete view of the rectum. Dr. James suspected that the bleeding was diverticular and noted that there was a large amount of blood and clotting in the mid-ascending colon. Dlouhy was discharged and followed up with his primary care physician in June 2015.
Dlouhy had additional follow-up visits related to his gastrointestinal issues in June 2015, September 2015, and January 2016. The possibility of colorectal cancer was not discussed or charted at any of these visits. In August 2016, Dlouhy was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer.
In May 2017, the Dlouhys filed a complaint against the Kootenai Clinic and two physicians, alleging medical malpractice. On June 5, 2017, Dlouhy died of colorectal cancer. Amended complaints were filed, adding Dlouhy’s children as plaintiffs and adding additional doctors, Western Medical Associates, and Kootenai Health as defendants. The parties settled claims against all defendants, with the exception of Kootenai Health.
The Dlouhys retained expert witnesses to testify on their behalf. Two experts, Kenneth J. Hammerman, M.D., and Judy L. Schmidt, M.D., were retained to testify about the standard of care. Kootenai Health filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the Dlouhys failed to establish an essential element of their claim because they had not presented experts with “actual knowledge” of the applicable community standard of care. The district court agreed with Kootenai Health and granted the motion for summary judgment. The Dlouhys appealed.
Dlouhy v. Kootenai Hospital District
The Idaho Supreme Court reviewed the district court’s ruling for an abuse of discretion. In Idaho, for an expert to testify about the applicable community standard of care, “he or she must have actual knowledge of the community standard as it existed ‘at the time and place of the alleged negligence.’” Plaintiffs may use local experts (who practice in the same community as the defendant health care provider with actual knowledge of the community standard of care that applies) or out-of-area experts (who must also explain how he or she came to be familiar with the community standard of care). Both Dr. Hammerman and Dr. Schmidt were out-of-area experts.
The court noted that for board-certified specialists, the local standard of care is equivalent to the national standard of care. Both of the proposed experts were board-certified in gastroenterology. By reviewing the record, the court determined that Dr. Hammerman learned that the community standard of care did not deviate from the national standard of care by reviewing depositions. The court also determined that Dr. Schmidt had not given a timely affidavit or declaration in response to the motion to summary judgment. The court concluded that the district court had erred in excluding Dr. Hammereman’s testimony only.
The Idaho Supreme Court reversed the order granting summary judgment and remanded the case to the district court for additional proceedings.