High court overturns verdict in Central Maine Medical Center suit

Posted Aug. 26, 2012, at 6:55 a.m.

AUBURN, Maine — Maine’s top court has overturned a judgment against Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, because a malpractice screening panel didn’t consider the conduct of a doctor at that hospital before allowing the case to go to trial.

Maine law requires that a prelitigation screening panel evaluate a doctor’s alleged professional negligence before moving to trial with a case involving that doctor.

Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley’s written decision vacated the Androscoggin County Superior Court judgment and sent the case back to the lower court for further action.

A jury had found that CMMC, its employees and/or its agents, including a nonemployee doctor, were negligent in their care and treatment of Paul V. Levesque, a patient at the hospital.

Levesque underwent heart bypass surgery in 2006 at the hospital. Following the procedure, he was put in a recovery unit. Two days after the surgery, Levesque’s wife and a CMMC nurse discovered a bedsore on Levesque’s tailbone.

The sore took about four months to heal. It led to other medical problems and continued to cause Levesque pain and discomfort, according to the high court’s written decision.

The following year, Levesque filed a notice with the courts alleging professional negligence against the hospital, including its agents and workers. The notice separately named Levesque’s doctor, Allan Ingraham, but not the doctor, Pamela Rietschel, who had been covering for Ingraham the weekend the bedsore was discovered.

During the screening process, Rietschel’s actions apparently weren’t disputed and she wasn’t called as a witness. The panel issued its findings a year later that neither Ingraham nor the hospital had deviated from standard practice while treating Levesque.

A month later, Levesque and his wife filed a joint complaint alleging negligence and infliction of emotional distress, naming only Ingraham and CMMC as defendants.

The complaint didn’t name Rietschel as a defendant nor claim that she and Ingraham were CMMC employees.

The court later granted Ingraham’s motion for summary judgment after finding he was not professionally negligent.

Before the case went to trial, Levesque claimed that Rietschel was an apparent agent of CMMC and alleged her professional negligence despite the fact that her actions were not presented to the screening panel.

CMMC had tried to block Levesque from advancing a theory of liability against the hospital based on the notion that Rietschel was acting as an apparent agent of the hospital.

Levesque’s claims relating to Rietschel’s conduct were allowed at the trial over CMMC’s objections and the court wouldn’t let CMMC present an expert to discuss her standard of care, according to the high court’s decision.

The trial judge also wouldn’t allow questions about nurses’ routine practices at the hospital.

The jury’s verdict found that CMMC and its workers and agents were negligent in their care and treatment of Levesque. The jury found that Rietschel was an agent of CMMC and that the nurses who participated in Levesque’s care were negligent. The jury also found that Levesque’s injuries and damages were caused by CMMC, its workers and/or agents.

Jurors awarded Levesque a total of $420,000 in damages.

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