Frausto v. Yakima Hma, LLC, No. 93312-0

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
Writing for the CourtYU, J.
Citation393 P.3d 776,188 Wash.2d 227
Parties Rudy FRAUSTO, Appellant, v. YAKIMA HMA, LLC, a Washington State Corporation, Respondent.
Docket NumberNo. 93312-0
Decision Date27 April 2017

188 Wash.2d 227
393 P.3d 776

Rudy FRAUSTO, Appellant,
v.
YAKIMA HMA, LLC, a Washington State Corporation, Respondent.

No. 93312-0

Supreme Court of Washington.

Argued Feb. 21, 2017
Filed: April 27, 2017


Favian Valencia, Sunlight Law, PLLC, 402 E. Yakima Ave., Ste. 730, Yakima, WA, 98901-2787, for Appellant.

Jerome R. Aiken, Sean McKenna Worley, Meyer, Fluegge & Tenney, P.S., P.O. Box 22680, 230 S. 2nd St., Yakima, WA, 98907-2680, for Respondent.

Stewart Andrew Estes, Keating, Bucklin & McCormack, Inc., P.S., 800 Fifth Ave., Ste. 4141, Seattle, WA, 98104-3175, Rhianna Marie Fronapfel, Bennett Bigelow & Leedom, P.S., 601 Union St., Ste. 1500, Seattle, WA, 98101-1363, as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington Defense Trial Lawyers.

Gregory Mann Miller, Carney Badley Spellman PS, 701 5th Ave., Ste. 3600, Seattle, WA, 98104-7010, Melissa Jean Cunningham, Physicians Insurance, 1301 2nd Ave., Ste. 2700, Seattle, WA, 98101-3803, as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington State Medical Association.

Gregory Mann Miller, Carney Badley Spellman PS, 701 5th Ave., Ste. 3600, Seattle, WA, 98104-7010, Melissa Jean Cunningham, Physicians Insurance, 1301 2nd Ave., Ste. 2700, Seattle, WA, 98101-3803, as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Wash. Chapter Washington Academy of Family Physicians.

Gregory Mann Miller, Carney Badley Spellman PS, 701 5th Ave., Ste. 3600, Seattle, WA, 98104-7010, Melissa Jean Cunningham, Physicians Insurance, 1301 2nd Ave., Ste. 2700, Seattle, WA, 98101-3803, as Amicus Curiae on behalf of American College of Emergency Physicians.

Gregory Mann Miller, Carney Badley Spellman PS, 701 5th Ave., Ste. 3600, Seattle, WA, 98104-7010, Melissa Jean Cunningham, Physicians Insurance, 1301 2nd Ave., Ste. 2700, Seattle, WA, 98101-3803, as Amicus Curiae on behalf of American Medical Association.

Daniel Edward Huntington, Richter-Wimberley PS, 422 W. Riverside Ave., Ste. 1300, Spokane, WA, 99201-0305, Valerie Davis Mcomie, Attorney at Law, 4549 N.W. Aspen St., Camas, WA, 98607-8302, as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington State Association for Justice Foundation.

YU, J.

188 Wash.2d 229

¶1 The sole issue in this case is whether advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs) are per se disqualified from testifying on proximate cause in a medical negligence case. For the reasons discussed below, we hold that ARNPs may be qualified to testify regarding causation in a medical malpractice case if the trial court determines that the ARNP meets the threshold requirements of ER 702. The ability to independently diagnose and prescribe treatment for a particular malady is strong evidence that the expert might be qualified to discuss the cause of that same malady. We therefore reverse

393 P.3d 778

the trial court and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶2 Rudy Frausto, a 70-year-old quadriplegic man, checked in to Yakima HMA LLC for pneumonia. While there, the nurses allegedly failed to provide proper care in the form of moving him, turning him, and providing him with an appropriate bed. As a result, Frausto developed pressure ulcers and filed suit against the medical center.1

188 Wash.2d 230

¶3 Yakima HMA moved for summary judgment, arguing that Frausto had failed to provide expert testimony as required by statute. In response, Frausto offered the sworn affidavit of Karen Wilkinson, an ARNP with more than 30 years of experience "providing direct patient care, serving as clinical nursing faculty for students providing care, and publishing nursing texts on the subject." Clerk's Papers at 127, 136-37. Wilkinson stated her "professional objective medical opinion, on a more probable than not basis," that the treating nurses breached the applicable standard of care and that this breach proximately caused Frausto's pressure ulcers. Id. at 128.

¶4 The trial court held that while Wilkinson was certainly qualified as an expert and could speak to the applicable standard of care, the law did not permit Wilkinson to testify on the issue of proximate cause. Frausto initially appealed to Division Three of the Court of Appeals but later moved to transfer the case to this court. Our commissioner granted the motion. Ruling Granting Mot. to Transfer, Frausto v. Yakima HMA, LLC, No. 93312-0 (Wash. Sept. 26, 2016).

ISSUE

¶4 May an ARNP express an opinion on proximate cause in a medical malpractice case in accordance with RCW 7.70.040 ?

ANALYSIS

¶5 Washington's statutory scheme creates several categories of care providers under the "nursing" umbrella—licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, and ARNPs—each with varying certification requirements and scopes of

188 Wash.2d 231

practice. See RCW 18.79.040 -.060. Our legislature has designated ARNPs as the highest tier of nurses, "prepared and qualified to assume primary responsibility and accountability for the care of patients" within the narrow scope of their particular certifications. RCW 18.79.050 ; WAC 246-840-300(1). We need consider the qualifications of only ARNPs for purposes of this case.

¶6 Yakima HMA asserts first that we should review the trial court's ruling for abuse of discretion. Ordinarily, evidentiary rulings are a matter of discretion by the trial court and will not be upset on review absent an abuse of discretion, McKee v. Am. Home Prods. Corp., 113 Wash.2d 701, 706, 782 P.2d 1045 (1989). However, it is not clear that the trial court even attempted to exercise its discretion in resolving an evidentiary issue, believing instead that our case law foreclosed the possibility of Wilkinson's testimony on proximate cause. Verbatim Tr. of Proceedings (Oct. 21, 2015) (VTP) at 33 (noting that "the state of the law ... is that the nurse, no matter how well qualified, isn't capable of giving a decision on proximate cause"). In any event, "[t]he de novo standard of review is used by an appellate court when reviewing all trial court rulings made in conjunction with a summary judgment motion." Folsom v. Burger King, 135 Wash.2d 658, 663, 958 P.2d 301 (1998). Here, it is undisputed that the decision made by the trial court that is on review was made pursuant to Yakima HMA's motion for summary judgment. Because the trial court dismissed this case on summary judgment, our review is de novo. Aba Sheikh v. Choe, 156 Wash.2d 441, 447, 128 P.3d 574 (2006).

393 P.3d 779

¶7 In Washington, plaintiffs in a medical malpractice action must prove two key elements: (1) that the defendant health care provider failed to exercise the standard of care of a reasonably prudent health care provider in that same profession and (2) that such failure was a proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries. RCW 7.70.040. With regard to the standard of care, we have repeatedly held that " ‘expert

188 Wash.2d 232

testimony will generally be necessary to establish the standard of care.’ " Young v. Key Pharm., Inc., 112 Wash.2d 216, 228, 770 P.2d 182 (1989) (quoting Harris v. Groth, 99 Wash.2d 438, 449, 663 P.2d 113 (1983) ). The expert must have "sufficient expertise in the relevant specialty" such that the expert is familiar with the procedure or medical problem at issue. Id. at 229, 770 P.2d 182.

¶8 To establish causation, the plaintiff must show that the alleged breach of the standard of care "was a proximate cause of the injury complained of." RCW 7.70.040(2). Like the standard of care, expert testimony is always required except in those few situations where understanding causation "does not require technical medical expertise."2 Young, 112 Wash.2d at 228, 770 P.2d 182 (giving the examples of "amputating the wrong limb or poking a patient in the eye while stitching a wound on the face"). "Whether an expert is qualified to testify is a determination within the discretion of the trial court." Miller v. Peterson, 42 Wash.App. 822, 832, 714 P.2d 695 (1986). In this case, however, the trial court did not believe it had any discretion to allow a nursing expert to testify regarding medical causation as a matter of law. VTP (Oct. 21, 2015) at 33.

¶8 Although we have not opined on this specific issue, the Court of Appeals has offered conflicting analyses on this point in a series of three opinions.

¶9 In the first opinion, the family of a deceased patient brought suit against a hospital after the patient died from internal bleeding. Colwell v. Holy Family Hosp., 104 Wash.App. 606, 609, 15 P.3d 210 (2001). The family alleged that hospital staff failed to adequately monitor the patient. Id. The trial court dismissed the action on summary judgment, noting that the family failed to make a prima facie case

188 Wash.2d 233

because their expert registered nurse " ‘[was] not competent to render an opinion regarding causation.’ " Id. at 610, 15 P.3d 210. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that "a medical doctor must still generally connect [the patient's] death to the alleged nursing deficiencies." Id. at 613, 15 P.3d 210. Thus, the court found that the trial court ...

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44 practice notes
  • Mackey v. Home Depot USA, Inc., No. 52293-4-II
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • March 3, 2020
    ...order.ANALYSISA. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD ¶23 Our review of a dismissal on summary judgment is de novo. Frausto v. Yakima HMA, LLC , 188 Wash.2d 227, 231, 393 P.3d 776 (2017). We review all evidence and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Keck v. Colli......
  • Reagan v. Newton, No. 50662-9-II
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • March 5, 2019
    ...789ANALYSISA. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD ¶15 Our review of a dismissal on summary judgment is de novo. Frausto v. Yakima HMA, LLC , 188 Wash.2d 227, 231, 393 P.3d 776 (2017). We review all evidence and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Keck v. Collins ......
  • Wash. Trucking Associations, Nonprofit Corp. v. State, NO. 93079-1
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • April 27, 2017
    ...of state tax administration to ensure the State can collect the revenue it depends on to function. Applying the adequacy analysis 393 P.3d 776here, comity bars WTA's and the Carriers' section 1983 claim because they may raise constitutional objections to the tax on judicial review.¶51 The E......
  • L.M. By And Through Dussault v. Hamilton, NO. 95173-0
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • March 21, 2019
    ...courts must consider whether the expert has ‘ "sufficient expertise in the relevant specialty.’ " Frausto v. Yakima HMA, LLC, 188 Wash.2d 227, 232, 393 P.3d 776 (2017) (quoting Young v. Key Pharm., Inc., 112 Wash.2d 216, 229, 770 P.2d 182 (1989) ).193 Wash.2d 136¶ 48 Parties often call Dr. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
44 cases
  • Mackey v. Home Depot USA, Inc., No. 52293-4-II
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • March 3, 2020
    ...order.ANALYSISA. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD ¶23 Our review of a dismissal on summary judgment is de novo. Frausto v. Yakima HMA, LLC , 188 Wash.2d 227, 231, 393 P.3d 776 (2017). We review all evidence and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Keck v. Colli......
  • Reagan v. Newton, No. 50662-9-II
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • March 5, 2019
    ...789ANALYSISA. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD ¶15 Our review of a dismissal on summary judgment is de novo. Frausto v. Yakima HMA, LLC , 188 Wash.2d 227, 231, 393 P.3d 776 (2017). We review all evidence and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Keck v. Collins ......
  • Wash. Trucking Associations, Nonprofit Corp. v. State, NO. 93079-1
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • April 27, 2017
    ...of state tax administration to ensure the State can collect the revenue it depends on to function. Applying the adequacy analysis 393 P.3d 776here, comity bars WTA's and the Carriers' section 1983 claim because they may raise constitutional objections to the tax on judicial review.¶51 The E......
  • L.M. By And Through Dussault v. Hamilton, NO. 95173-0
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • March 21, 2019
    ...courts must consider whether the expert has ‘ "sufficient expertise in the relevant specialty.’ " Frausto v. Yakima HMA, LLC, 188 Wash.2d 227, 232, 393 P.3d 776 (2017) (quoting Young v. Key Pharm., Inc., 112 Wash.2d 216, 229, 770 P.2d 182 (1989) ).193 Wash.2d 136¶ 48 Parties often call Dr. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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