An order granting summary judgment is reviewed de novo. Summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Wash. Super. Ct. Civ. R. 56(c). An appellate court reviews the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.
Plaintiffs, a husband and wife, sued defendant health care providers, claiming that the wife received negligent treatment, far below the recognized standard of care. The wife suffered a trauma-induced stroke and was permanently disabled. Plaintiffs alleged that negligent treatment by defendants diminished the wife's chances of avoiding or greatly minimizing her disability. In other words, plaintiffs claimed that negligence caused the wife a loss of the chance of a better outcome. The court held that there is a cause of action in the medical malpractice context for the loss of a chance of a better outcome. The Benton County Superior Court, Washington, granted summary judgment for defendants. Plaintiffs appealed. The order of summary judgment was reversed, and the case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.
In the medical malpractice context, is there a cause of action for a lost chance, even when the ultimate result is some serious harm short of death?
The court held that there is a cause of action in the medical malpractice context for the loss of a chance of a better outcome. A plaintiff making such a claim must prove duty, breach, and that there was an injury in the form of a loss of a chance caused by the breach of duty. To prove causation, a plaintiff would then rely on established tort causation doctrines permitted by law and the specific evidence of the case. Interpreting the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, they made a prima facie case under the lost chance doctrine that defendants breached the recognized standard of care for treating a head trauma victim with the wife's symptoms and that their breaches caused her a diminished chance of a better outcome. According to expert medical testimony, the wife might have had no disability if she had been properly treated.