Spears v. Capital Region Medical Center

Decision Date26 February 2002
Docket NumberNo. WD 59842.,WD 59842.
Citation86 S.W.3d 58
PartiesGlen SPEARS, Appellant, v. CAPITAL REGION MEDICAL CENTER, INC., Respondent.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

John D. Beger, Rolla, for appellant.

Edward C. Clausen, Jason L. Call, Jefferson City, for respondent.

Before SMART, P.J., LOWENSTEIN and ELLIS, J.J.

HAROLD L. LOWENSTEIN, Judge.

This appeal involves a claim for medical malpractice based on res ipsa loquitur. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the respondent, Capital Region Medical Center. The appellant, Glen Spears, argues on appeal: 1) that Missouri should adopt the majority rule of allowing expert testimony in cases involving res ipsa loquitur, and 2) that prohibiting expert testimony vis-à-vis res ipsa loquitur violates the "open courts" provision of the Missouri Constitution.

Factual and Procedural History

On August 11, 1997, Spears went to Capital Region's emergency room for treatment, complaining of discomfort and displaying symptoms consistent with cardiac distress. Capital Region performed tests and concluded that Spears required cardiac bypass surgery. The bypass surgery was performed under general anesthesia at Capital Region, and Spears was hospitalized for approximately one week, August 11-18, 1997.

In his petition, Spears alleged that he contracted Hepatitis C from his hospitalization at Capital Region. Hepatitis C is a blood-born pathogen, predominately transmitted by blood products or intravenous needles, though it can be transferred by sexual contact, intranasal cocaine use, contaminated medical equipment, or other means. The incubation period of the pathogen, measured by Spears' liver enzymes, indicates that Spears likely contracted Hepatitis C while at Capital Region. Capital Region stresses that it is only a likelihood that Spears contracted Hepatitis C during his stay there (and that Spears could have contracted Hepatitis C as early as June 1997) and argues that even if he did contract the pathogen while there, Capital Region did not necessarily breach its duty of care.

The dispositive issue here is that Spears is unable to identify the person or persons who infected him or explain the manner by which he was infected. More importantly, Spears therefore requires expert testimony to establish that he was infected with Hepatitis C while a patient at Capital Region.

Standard of Review

Review of a grant of summary judgment is essentially de novo. ITT Commercial Fin. Corp. v. Mid-Am. Marine Supply Corp., 854 S.W.2d 371, 376 (Mo. banc 1993). The trial court's decision will be affirmed if "there are no genuine issues of material fact and ... the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Id. at 377. However, this court reviews the trial court's determination independently, without deference to that court's conclusions. Id. at 376.

Analysis
I.

In his first point, Spears argues that the trial court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of Capital Region because Spears presented evidence supporting a claim for medical malpractice by way of the res ipsa loquitur doctrine and that this court should adopt the majority rule and allow him to present expert testimony in support of his res ipsa loquitur case.

Zumwalt v. Koreckij, 24 S.W.3d 166 (Mo.App.2000), succinctly lays out the elements of a medical malpractice action and its relationship to the evidentiary rule of res ipsa loquitur. In a standard medical malpractice action, the plaintiff is required to establish: 1) an act or omission by the defendant that was not in keeping with the degree of skill and learning ordinarily used under the same or similar circumstances by members of the defendant's profession, and 2) that such negligence or omission caused the plaintiff's injury. Id. at 168 (quoting Washington by Washington v. Barnes Hosp., 897 S.W.2d 611, 615 (Mo. banc 1995).) Where applicable, however, a plaintiff can invoke the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur and avoid the need for direct proof of negligence and thereby directly proceed to a jury trial. Id. "The doctrine serves to aid an injured party who does not know and cannot plead the specific cause of the injury." Graham v. Thompson, 854 S.W.2d 797, 799 (Mo.App. 1993).

A plaintiff can make a submissible case under res ipsa loquitur by demonstrating: 1) the occurrence resulting in injury does not ordinarily happen in the absence of negligence; 2) the instrumentalities that caused the injury are under the care and management of the defendant; and 3) the defendant possesses either superior knowledge of or means of obtaining information about the cause of the occurrence. Zumwalt, 24 S.W.3d at 168.

Put another way, res ipsa loquitur is:

a rule of evidence whereby a submissible issue of negligence may be made by adducing a particular kind of circumstantial evidence, viz., by showing the fact of an occurrence which, because of its character and circumstances, permits a jury to draw a rebuttable inference, based on the common knowledge or experience of laymen, that the causes of the occurrence in question do not ordinarily exist in the absence of negligence on the part of the one in control.

Hasemeier v. Smith, 361 S.W.2d 697, 700 (Mo. banc 1962)(emphasis added).

Hasemeier is Missouri's seminal case on res ipsa loquitur in medical negligence cases. In Hasemeier, the plaintiff filed a claim for relief under the res ipsa loquitur doctrine after his deceased wife died during childbirth. Id. at 699. The plaintiff alleged in part that the fatality rate of mothers in childbirth is so low as not to be the subject of statistics; that the death of the plaintiff's wife was proximately caused by the negligence and carelessness of the defendant doctor; and that plaintiff did not know the exact nature of the carelessness and negligence because he was not present at the time of treatment. Id.

The Supreme Court disallowed the plaintiff from using the res ipsa loquitur doctrine because his case did not involve either a fact pattern: 1) where a patient received treatment for one problem and incurred an unusual injury,1 or 2) where a surgeon left a foreign object in an operative cavity. Id. at 700. The result is that in Missouri, a plaintiff cannot use expert testimony to establish a res ipsa loquitur case in a medical malpractice action. Instead, as noted supra, laypersons must know, based on their common knowledge or experience, that the cause of the plaintiffs injury does not ordinarily exist but for negligence of the one in control. Id.

With those principles in mind, Spears alleged that acquiring Hepatitis C does not ordinarily occur when due care is exercised by the party in control, that the instrumentalities involved are under the care and management of Capital Region, and that Capital Region possesses either superior knowledge or means of obtaining information about the cause of the occurrence. However, as noted supra, Spears conceded that he cannot establish a res ipsa loquitur case without expert testimony. Therefore, this court must affirm the summary judgment. To do otherwise would be in violation of this court's constitutional obligation to follow precedent set forth by the most recent Supreme Court of Missouri decision. Kansas Ass'n of Private Investigators v. Mulvihill, 35 S.W.3d 425, 432 (Mo.App.2000).

Spears conceded at oral argument...

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5 cases
  • Sides v. St. Anthony's Medical Center, SC 88948.
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • August 5, 2008
    ...Defendants moved to dismiss, alleging that under this Court's opinion in Hasemeier and the opinion in Spears v. Capital Region Med. Ctr., Inc., 86 S.W.3d 58, 61-62 (Mo.App. W.D.2002), which followed Hasemeier, plaintiffs could not proceed on a theory of res ipsa loquitur and were required t......
  • Watts v. Sechler
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • June 30, 2004
    ...in hay without regard to any person's negligence. Such testimony confirmed this was not a res ipsa loquitur case. See Spears v. Capital Region Med. Ctr., 86 S.W.3d 58, 61 [7] ...
  • Meekins v. St. John's Regional Health
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • October 21, 2004
    ...used by members of the defendant's profession; and (2) that such negligence caused the plaintiff's injury. Spears v. Capital Region Med. Ctr., Inc., 86 S.W.3d 58, 61 (Mo.App.2002). The claim here appears to be more of an ordinary negligence claim rather than one for medical The question of ......
  • Gaynor v. Washington University
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • June 24, 2008
    ...n. 4. A medical malpractice case based on res ipsa loquitur does not require or allow expert testimony on the standard of care. Spears, 86 S.W.3d at 62. Accordingly, section 538.225.1 does not exempt medical malpractice actions against health care providers in which proof is based on res ip......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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