Justia U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice
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In 2009, six-month-old Trystan received vaccines, including DTaP-HepB-IPV. Hours later, Trystan developed a fever and was in pain; he developed a hot lump on his thigh. Trystan’s mother took him to urgent care, where he was diagnosed with a “common cold.” Trystan’s arm contortions continued. At his one-year exam, Trystan could not stand, crawl, grasp, hold his head up while sitting, or attempt to move his lower extremities. Trystan received additional vaccinations. His arm contortions returned. Trystan had muscle spasms, developmental delays, seizures, dystonia, and other neurologic issues. In 2014, Trystan was diagnosed with Leigh’s syndrome, a severe neurological disorder that often presents in the first year of life, is characterized by progressive loss of mental and movement abilities, and typically results in death. Genetic testing showed that Trystan has two associated disease-causing mutations.His parents sought compensation under the Vaccine Act, 42 U.S.C. 300aa–1. The Claims Court upheld determinations that Trystan did not experience neurologic deterioration until many weeks after his 2009 vaccination and that Trystan’s genetic mutations solely caused his Leigh’s syndrome. The Federal Circuit reversed. Because the contortions began within two weeks of his vaccinations, Trystan has shown a logical chain of cause and effect between his vaccination and his neurodegeneration, satisfying his burden. He is entitled to compensation unless the Secretary establishes the injury was due to factors unrelated to the vaccine. There is no evidence that Trystan’s mutations would have resulted in the same progression and severity of his Leigh’s syndrome absent the vaccine. View "T.S. v. Secretary of Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

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The Kreizenbecks sought compensation under the National Vaccine Injury Act, 42 U.S.C. 300aa-1–34, alleging that vaccinations administered to their son aggravated an underlying mitochondrial disorder and caused him to suffer immune system dysfunction and other medical problems. They submitted 1,500 pages of medical records, medical literature, Mrs. Kreizenbeck's affidavit, and reports from three medical experts. The government submitted reports from three experts. The Special Master determined that “a ruling on the papers was preferable to a hearing,” expressed “serious misgivings about the claims’ substantive validity,” and explained that if the parties proceeded to a hearing, he was unlikely to compensate the Kreizenbecks for costs. The Kreizenbecks chose to forgo a hearing but objected to a ruling on the record. The Master allowed the parties to submit final briefs, then determined that nothing in the record and expert reports suggested that the outcome would be different after a hearing. He found the government’s mitochondrial expert “reliable and persuasive,” the Kreizenbecks’ expert reports “conclusory or unsubstantiated” and Mrs. Kreizenbeck’s affidavit uncorroborated and inconsistent with the medical records. The Kreizenbecks did not dispute the substance of the claim denial but challenged the dismissal of their petition on the written record.The Claims Court affirmed, finding that the Master provided ample opportunity to support the claims with written material. The Federal Circuit affirmed, noting the Master’s broad discretion to rule on the record and rejecting a due process argument based on evaluating the credibility of the experts and Mrs. Kreizenbeck without live testimony or cross-examination. View "Kreizenbbeck v. Secretary of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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Scotty, born in 1979 at Madigan Army Medical Center, suffered injuries during childbirth, resulting in brain damage, cerebral palsy, seizures, and blindness, necessitating ongoing, around-the-clock care. The Shaws sued and agreed to a settlement, which stated that payments described in paragraph 5 and the purchase of annuities described in paragraph 6 “shall constitute a complete release.” Paragraph 5 provided that the government would pay: $500,000 to the Shaws; $500,000 to Scotty's medical trust; $850,000 to the Shaws’ attorneys; and, for the purchase of annuities to provide payments set forth in paragraph 6, $2,950,000.00. Paragraph 6 set forth the terms for the annuities. Four annuities are at issue: one each for Mr. and Ms. Shaw, one for the guardianship for the benefit of Scotty, and one for the medical trust. The government made each of the specified payments, including $2,846,095 to purchase the annuities. The agreement stated that payments from the annuities for Mr. and Ms. Shaw “are guaranteed for a period of twenty (20) years.” Paragraph 7 noted that the “settlement is contingent on a total, final cost of $4,800,000.00.” The annuities were purchased from ELNY, which later encountered financial difficulties and entered into court-ordered liquidation in 2012. The Shaws's annuity payments were reduced by 20%; payments to the guardianship and the medical trust were reduced by 62.4%. The Shaws sued. The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the government, which was obligated to guarantee the annuity payments only for the first 20 years. The reduction in payments began after that period. The Shaws lacked standing to sue on behalf of the medical trust. View "Shaw v. United States" on Justia Law

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Ollis, a veteran, sought disability benefits under 38 U.S.C. 1151, which provides benefits for certain injuries incurred as a result of VA medical care. Ollis suffers from atrial fibrillation and claims a disability resulting from complications of a heart procedure to treat that condition. The procedure (miniMAZE) was allegedly recommended by a VA doctor but was performed by a private doctor. The VA denied Ollis’s application for benefits. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals and the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims affirmed. The Federal Circuit vacated in part, remanding the question of whether Ollis’s VA doctors were negligent by recommending the mini-MAZE procedure to him. The Veterans Court focused on whether VA medical treatment caused Ollis to utilize Dr. Hall and Methodist Medical Center, rather than on whether VA medical treatment caused him to have the mini-MAZE procedure itself. On remand, the Veterans Court must also address the “not reasonably foreseeable” and “proximate cause of the disability” requirements. The court affirmed rejection of an argument that VA’s failure to provide him notice that a referral to a private facility for his miniMAZE procedure could extinguish his eligibility for benefits constituted a violation of his right to due process. View "Ollis v. Shulkin" on Justia Law