Summary Judgment in Queens County

HPM&B recently obtained summary judgment on behalf of a municipal hospital in a case involving an alleged failure to timely diagnose and treat endocarditis, resulting in a stroke. Plaintiff had a long-standing history of rheumatoid and osteoarthritis which precipitated numerous visits to the emergency room for knee and hip pain, culminating in an admission for an infectious left knee with septic arthritis. Endocarditis was later confirmed. Despite being treated for endocarditis with Vancomycin, plaintiff exhibited slurred speech and became aphasic. She then experienced a stroke, leaving her permanently disabled and non-verbal.

In support of summary judgment, HPM&B submitted expert affirmations in cardiology and infectious disease in which these experts opined that plaintiff received appropriate care, Vancomycin is the gold standard for treatment of endocarditis, and endocarditis can lead to neurological complications despite appropriate care.

In opposition, plaintiff’s neurology expert pointed to one isolated laboratory finding of increased bands at a previous November 4, 2005 Emergency Department visit prompted by severe hip pain that did not respond to medication. The expert opined that plaintiff might have had an infection of the mitral valve at that point in time and claimed that the hospital should have undertaken a complete work-up to determine the etiology of the increased bands. This position was taken despite a normal white blood cell count and indications by both defense experts that increased bands can be caused by pain, dehydration or other nonspecific etiologies.

In reply, HPM&B argued that plaintiff’s expert opinion was purely speculative and based on hindsight, and unsubstantiated by the hospital records. We also argued that plaintiff’s expert did not address opinions from the defense experts that plaintiff was appropriately treated for both septic arthritis and endocarditis. Finally, we argued that plaintiff’s ultimate expert opinion was speculative and thus insufficient to defeat summary judgment.

The Supreme Court, Queens County (O’Donoghue, J.) found that plaintiff expert’s qualifying credentials were insufficient because he did not show familiarity with the standards of care in New York in 2005 for the treatment of septic arthritis and endocarditis. It also found that even if the expert’s credentials were sufficient, his ultimate opinion that plaintiff might have had an infection of the mitral valve at the prior Emergency Department visit was both speculative and conclusory.

HPM&B partner Terrence St. John and associate Deborah Cann represented the hospital on the motion.