Law School Case Brief
Trowell v. Providence Hosp. & Med. Ctrs., Inc. - 502 Mich. 509, 918 N.W.2d 645 (2018)
As with any review of a complaint, all well-pleaded factual allegations are accepted as true and construed in a light most favorable to the nonmovant. And a court disregards the labels given to the claims and instead reads the complaint as a whole, seeking the gravamen of the claims.
Plaintiff-appellee brought the present lawsuit on February 11, 2014, after sustaining injuries at defendant hospital. Her complaint alleged that an aide named Dana, acting alone, tried to move her to the bathroom and dropped plaintiff twice during the process. The trial court granted summary disposition to defendant on April 8, 2015, holding that plaintiff's claims sounded in medical malpractice, not ordinary negligence, because the claims involved a professional relationship between plaintiff and defendant and concern questions of defendant's medical judgment. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that it could not conclude solely on the basis of the allegations in the complaint that plaintiff's claims sounded in medical malpractice. It then remanded for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether plaintiff's claims sounded in medical malpractice, ordinary negligence, or both. The hospital sought further review.
Where the only material submitted to the trial court was plaintiff patient's complaint, did the appellate court err in remanding the case for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether plaintiff's claims sounded in medical malpractice, ordinary negligence, or both?
The Supreme Court of Texas explained that the issue in this case is whether plaintiff's claims against defendant hospital sound in medical malpractice or ordinary negligence. If her claims sound in medical malpractice, then they are barred by the two-year statute of limitations applicable to medical malpractice actions and defendant is entitled to summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7). If her claims sound in ordinary negligence, then they are timely. The Court held that under the facts of this case, in which the only material submitted to the trial court was plaintiff's complaint, the appellate court's remand was improper and in determining the nature of plaintiff's claims, the lower courts' review was limited to the complaint alone. A proper review of the allegations in plaintiff's complaint led the Court to conclude that although the complaint includes some claims of medical malpractice, it also contains one claim of ordinary negligence. The Court pointed out that whether a claim sounds in ordinary negligence or medical malpractice is a question of law that is reviewed de novo. It also pointed out that a medical malpractice claim is sometimes difficult to distinguish from an ordinary negligence claim; however, the distinction is often critical. Reversing, the Court held that when plaintiff's complaint is read properly, she has stated only one claim of ordinary negligence—the failure-to-assist claim regarding the second drop. As stated in the complaint, the other claims sound in medical malpractice, and thus those other claims are time-barred. The Court also held that the appellate court erred by ordering further discovery to determine the nature of plaintiff's claims, which must be ascertained from the complaint itself under the facts of this case. In this case, neither party submitted materials beyond the complaint concerning the nature of the claims, and therefore review is properly limited to the complaint alone.
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