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Ordinary Negligence vs. Medical Malpractice. Rabinovich v. Maimonides Med. Ctr., 179 A.D.3d 88 (N.Y. App. Div. 2019)


Rabinovich v. Maimonides Med. Ctr., 179 A.D.3d 88 (N.Y. App. Div. 2019) involves the distinction between ordinary negligence and medical malpractice. The determination impacts requirements related to CPLR 3012-a, which requires a certificate of merit in medical malpractice actions.

Background Facts
On August 13, 2015, the plaintiff donated blood at a blood donation center in Brooklyn. After leaving the center, she had an adverse reaction, lost consciousness, fell, and sustained injuries. On September 18, 2017, she filed an action against the center. The defendant responded, demanding a complaint, which the plaintiff provided, detailing the alleged negligence. The defendant’s answer included ten affirmative defenses, one of which was the plaintiff’s failure to file a certificate of merit as required by CPLR 3012-a.

Discovery ensued, and the bill of particulars echoed the complaint’s allegations. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant failed to follow New York State protocols, screen for health problems, take her medical history, provide a complete medical examination, measure hemoglobin levels, and recognize predictors of adverse reactions.

On September 24, 2018, the defendant moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of a certificate of merit, asserting that medical expertise was needed to determine if the standard of care was met. The plaintiff argued that her claims were based on ordinary negligence, not medical malpractice, and that the involvement of a hospital employee, not a doctor, exempted the case from CPLR 3012-a requirements. The Supreme Court denied the motion, ruling that the complaint sounded in simple negligence. The defendant appealed.

The main issue was whether the plaintiff’s allegations constituted ordinary negligence or medical malpractice, thus determining the applicability of CPLR 3012-a’s certificate of merit requirement.

The appellate court disagreed with the lower court’s conclusion that the case involved only simple negligence. However, it found that the appropriate remedy for failing to file a certificate of merit was not dismissal of the complaint but an extension of time for the plaintiff to comply with CPLR 3012-a.

CPLR 3012-a(a)(1) mandates that a complaint in a medical malpractice action must be accompanied by a certificate of merit from the plaintiff’s attorney. This certificate confirms that the attorney reviewed the case facts and consulted with a knowledgeable medical professional, concluding that the action has a reasonable basis. The statute aims to deter frivolous lawsuits and reduce medical malpractice litigation costs and insurance premiums.

Exceptions to the certificate requirement exist, such as when the statute of limitations is near expiration or the attorney made good faith attempts to consult with medical professionals but was unsuccessful. Pro se plaintiffs are exempt from the statute altogether.

The distinction between medical malpractice and ordinary negligence hinges on whether the conduct involves medical science or art requiring special skills, or whether it can be judged by common knowledge. If the actions require professional medical judgment, the case sounds in medical malpractice. Here, the plaintiff’s allegations involved the defendant’s medical judgments, such as screening, monitoring, and recognizing adverse reactions, necessitating medical expertise to evaluate.

The appellate court cited similar cases where blood donation complications were treated as medical malpractice. The need for a medical director at blood banks further supports this classification. The court also clarified that a doctor-patient relationship is not necessary for CPLR 3012-a to apply. Actions by healthcare providers that bear a substantial relationship to medical treatment fall under medical malpractice, regardless of whether a physician was directly involved.

Understanding the nuances between ordinary negligence and medical malpractice is critical in medical malpractice cases, especially when procedural requirements like filing a certificate of merit are involved. This distinction can significantly impact the outcome of a case, particularly in tragic situations where a patient has died.

If you or a loved one has suffered due to medical negligence, it is essential to seek experienced legal representation. Contact an experienced New York medical malpractice lawyer at Stephen Bilkis & Associates who can navigate the complexities of your case, ensure compliance with legal requirements, and advocate for your rights to obtain the compensation you deserve.

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