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Gomez v. Cabatic - 2018 NY Slip Op 00278, 159 A.D.3d 62, 70 N.Y.S.3d 19 (App. Div.)

Rule:

In a medical malpractice action, punitive damages may be recovered where the defendant's conduct evinces a high degree of moral culpability or willful or wanton negligence or recklessness. 

Facts:

A six-year-old child, Claudialee Nicanor, developed diabetic ketoacidosis after her endocrinologist, Arlene B. Mercado, failed to diagnose the child's type 1 diabetes. Claudialee returned home from school complaining that she was tired and did not feel well, and brought with her a note from the school nurse describing her symptoms. The child vomited that evening and said that she had a stomach ache. The next day, after having tried, unsuccessfully, to have Claudialee seen by her pediactrician, Dr. Thelma Cabatic, the child's mother took Claudialee to a hospital. Claudialee remained hospitalized until her death three days later. According to the final autopsy report, the child's death was "attributable to bilateral cerebellar tonsilar herniation secondary to cerebral edema following diabetic ketoacidosis." The minor's father subsequently commenced separate actions against the two medical providers, Cabatic and Mercado, seeking to recover damages for medical malpractice and wrongful death. At trial, it was discovered that the doctors destroyed the handwritten notes of the child's examinations along with other evidence after receiving a letter from the estate's attorney.

Issue:

Can a plaintiff recover punitive damages for a medical professional's act of altering or destroying medical records in an effort to evade potential medical malpractice liability?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The Court held that a child's estate was entitled to recover punitive damages in an action against a doctor because the estate recovered compensatory damages for the endocrinologist's malpractice, and the endocrinologist maliciously destroyed her handwritten note pertaining to the chid's examination in an effort to evade potential malpractice liability. It further held that sufficient evidence supported an award of punitive damages because the endocrinologist destroyed the handwritten notes of the child's examinations after receiving a letter from the estate's attorney, information was added to the typewritten record of the child's first visit, and there was an important discrepancy regarding when the child was to follow up with the endocrinologist, between the typewritten record of the December 12, 2009, visit and the appointment card.

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