Justia Health Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Rhode Island Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court in favor of South County Hospital, Home & Hospice Care of Rhode Island and Emmy Mahoney, M.D. (collectively, Defendants), and dismissing all claims alleged by Plaintiff individually and on behalf of the Guardianship of Joyce C. Willner, holding that the trial justice did not err in dismissing the claims. Plaintiff filed an eight-count complaint against Defendants, individually and as guardian of Joyce Willner, his mother. The trial judge granted Defendants' motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment, dismissing all claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial justice did not err in (1) dismissing the claims alleged by Plaintiff on behalf of the guardianship because Joyce had no right to be represented by Plaintiff, who was not authorized to practice law; and (2) denying Plaintiff's request to appoint a guardian ad litem. View "Willner v. South County Hospital" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the postjudgment order of the family court in favor of Judith Cusick requiring Maurice Cusick to submit to limited genetic testing for the benefit of the parties' minor children, holding that the hearing justice made sufficient findings of fact and did not overlook or misconceive any evidence. Judith, Maurice's former wife, filed her motion for genetic testing after Maurice was diagnosed with a genetic heart condition that poses significant risks that can result in sudden death. The hearing justice granted the motion. Maurice appealed, arguing for the first time that ordering him to submit to genetic testing violated his constitutional rights to privacy and due process. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Maurice's constitutional challenges were not property before the Court; and (2) the hearing justice's conclusion that genetic testing was in the best interest of the children was supported by the evidence, and the order was both balanced and reasonable. View "Cusick v. Cusick" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction for first-degree child abuse, holding that the trial justice did not err by requiring a licensed clinical social worker to testify about statements Defendant made to her while seeking mental-health treatment. A dispositive issue on appeal was whether any privilege arising from the Confidentiality of Health Care Information Act, R.I. Gen. Laws 5-37.3, is abrogated by R.I. Gen. Laws 40-11-11. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 40-11-11 unambiguously abrogates all privileges that might otherwise attach to communications between any professional person and her patient in situations involving known or suspected child abuse or neglect; and (2) this nullification of such privileges in judicial proceedings includes criminal proceedings. View "State v. LeFebvre" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court quashed the judgment of the superior court that reversed a decision by the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) to grant Petitioner’s application for a Health Care Certificate of Need (CON) on the basis that Petitioner’s application did not demonstrate a public need. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the DOH correctly applied its rules and regulations when it determined that the public need set forth in Petitioner’s application was appropriate; and (2) the DOH relied upon competent evidence for future public need in support of its decision to grant Petitioner’s CON application. View "Endoscopy Associates, Inc. v. Rhode Island Department of Health" on Justia Law

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On June 10, 2005, Plaintiff underwent surgery for a tumor in his neck. Analysis of the tumor on the same day revealed it was a form of cancer. Plaintiff alleged he learned he had cancer on June 21, 2005. Plaintiff and his wife filed a medical malpractice action against several doctors and health care facilities for failing to diagnose and treat Plaintiff's cancer. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants, holding that the three-year statute of limitations began to run on June 2, 2005, when a separate medical doctor diagnosed the mass in Defendant's neck as a cervical tumor, and had expired before Plaintiffs filed suit on June 9, 2008. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that when Plaintiff was diagnosed as having a cervical tumor and that diagnosis was shared with Plaintiff, a "reasonable person in similar circumstances" would have discovered that the wrongful conduct of Defendants caused Plaintiff's injuries. View "Bustamante v. Oshiro" on Justia Law

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The director of the Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals (Department) petitioned the superior court for an emergency transfer of Irving Briggs, a sentenced inmate, from the forensic unit of the Eleanor Slater Hospital, where Briggs was receiving mental-health services, back to the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) where he had previously been incarcerated. The superior court allowed an emergency transfer in the absence of a full evidentiary hearing, finding that potential harm could occur to others if Briggs were to remain at the forensic unit. After a post-transfer evidentiary hearing, a mental health advocate filed a motion to impose sanctions, alleging that the Department contrived a materially inaccurate set of facts to secure an immediate discharge of Briggs from the hospital. The trial justice declined to find a conspiracy among the Department staff and administration to remove Briggs from the forensic unit at any and all costs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial justice did not abuse his discretion when it denied to impose sanctions; and (2) Briggs's argument that his emergency transfer to the ACI violated his procedural due process rights was moot. View "In re Briggs" on Justia Law

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Pearl Archambault died while in the care of Haven Health Center of Greenville (Haven Health) after a nurse mistakenly administered a lethal overdose of morphine. The administratrix of her estate, Plaintiff, filed a medical malpractice action against Haven Health. Health Haven subsequently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Thereafter, Plaintiff amended her complaint to add Columbia Casualty Company, the professional liability insurer of Health Haven, as a defendant and asserted two counts against Columbia directly based on R.I. Gen. Laws 27-7-2.4, which permits an injured party to proceed against an insurer when the insured has filed for bankruptcy. The superior court entered default judgment against Haven Health. The court then granted summary judgment in favor of Columbia. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded with instructions to enter judgment against Columbia, holding that the superior court erred in interpreting Rhode Island law and that the insurance contract between Columbia and Health Haven should be construed in Plaintiff's favor. View "Peloquin v. Haven Health Ctr. of Greenville, LLC" on Justia Law

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Dr. James Gallo treated Plaintiff in 2003 and 2004. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Gallo and West Bay Psychiatry Associations, including claims for slander for remarks uttered in two separate proceedings. The first alleged slander occurred when Gallo's deposition was taken in connection with Plaintiff's case before the Workers' Compensation Court (WCC). The second alleged slander occurred when Gallo testified before the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) regarding Plaintiff's alleged wrongful termination from her teaching position. The superior court entered summary judgment for Defendants on Plaintiff's slander claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the motion justice did not err in finding (1) Plaintiff's claim for slander based on Gallo's WCC deposition testimony was time-barred; and (2) Plaintiff's claim for slander based on Gallo's RIDE testimony was immunized from defamation claims by the testimonial privilege because it qualified as having occurred in a judicial proceeding. View "Francis v. Gallo" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from a wrongful death action. Plaintiffs alleged medical negligence. The civil suit and eventual trial took place in the wake of the death of Peter Almonte, who in 2000, killed himself approximately thirty-six hours after he was discharged from a hospital emergency room after an "severe psychological episode." Hospital personnel "decided" to honor Mr. Almonte's demand to be discharged, which plaintiffs alleged was a breach of the doctors' and hospital's duty arising from a patient/physician relationship. The jury returned a verdict of no negligence on the part of one of the defendants, Dr. Rita Kurl, M.D. Plaintiffs moved for a new trial, and defendants renewed their previously made motion for judgment as a matter of law. The trial court rejected the jury's findings as to the absence of negligence, but granted defendants motion because the court concluded that plaintiffs had failed to prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence. Accordingly, plaintiffs' motion was denied. On appeal, plaintiffs contended that the trial justice erred: (1) in granting defendants' Rule 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law; (2) in refusing to give jury instructions with respect to the doctrine of spoliation; (3) in refusing plaintiffs' request for an evidentiary presumption on the issue of causation; and (4) in denying plaintiffs' Rule 59 motion for a new trial. Finding no basis upon which it could grant plaintiffs the relief they sought, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decisions. View "Almonte v. Kurl" on Justia Law

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The state Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) filed petitions to terminate the parental rights of respondents Kathleen D. and Ronald D. with respect to their two children, Steven and Zachary, after the children were removed from the parents because Kathleen was in a medically induced coma and Ronald could not care for the children alone due to epilepsy and rheumatoid arthritis. The trial court granted the petitions to terminate respondents' parental rights, finding that DCYF had shown that (1) the children would not be able to return safely to respondents' care within a reasonable period of time, (2) DCYF had made all reasonable efforts to reunite the children with respondents, and (3) it was in the best interests of the children that respondents' parental rights be terminated. The Supreme Court vacated the decree of the family court, holding (1) the trial justice clearly erred in finding the DCYF made reasonable efforts to reunify Kathleen with her children, and (2) there was insufficient evidence to prove that Ronald's health conditions would meet requirements for a finding of parental unfitness or that services had been offered or received by Ronald to address this problem.