Wednesday, May 22, 2024

No Health Care For The Deceased

A medical examiner who conducts an autopsy cannot be liable under the state Medical Professional Liability Act, according to a decision of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

The claim involves asserted negligence in determining cause of death

Respondent’s wife, Mrs. Cipoletti, died on January 9, 2017. Dr. Mock, the OCME’s Chief Medical Examiner, performed an autopsy. Dr. Mock’s subsequent report, entitled “Report of Death Investigation and Post-Mortem Examination Findings,” provides:

It is my opinion that June Burford Cipoletti, a 59-year-old woman, died as a result of right temporoparietal cerebral infraction due to atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease with contributory hypertensive cardiomegaly and dilated cardiomyopathy with acute on chronic alcohol intoxication. The potential cardiotoxicity associated with acute ethanol intoxication cannot be excluded as contributory.

Manner of Death: The circumstances surrounding death, as determined by the death investigation and post-mortem examination, indicate that the manner of death is accident.

The court reversed a decision of the trial court to deny a motion to dismiss

The circuit court found that Dr. Mock’s conduct fell under and was governed by the MPLA, thus depriving Petitioners of qualified immunity.10 Petitioners argue that this finding was erroneous and assert that Respondent may not maintain an MPLA claim because the MPLA requires a health care provider to provide “health care” to a “patient” resulting in “the injury or death of a person.” Petitioners assert that conducting an autopsy on a decedent and completing a death certificate listing the manner and cause of death does not fall within these parameters...

The MPLA defines the term “patient” as “a natural person who receives or should have received health care from a licensed health care provider under a contract, expressed or implied.” W. Va. Code § 55-7B-2(m) (Emphasis added). Consistent with the foregoing definition, this Court has held that a decedent cannot be a “patient” under the MPLA.

(Mike Frisch)

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