Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Friday, July 18, 2014

Burning issue

Case of ER patient injured
by hot coffee goes to trial

By David Baker
Posted July 18, 2014
505 words

A trial in a case in which man with a history of seizures who was burned when he passed out and spilled hot coffee on his groin area while in the emergency room at Saratoga Hospital started this week at the Saratoga County office complex in Ballston Spa.

Rodney Vallone of Saratoga Springs claims the hospital is liable because it allowed him to have the coffee, and for allegedly failing to immediately transfer him to a burn unit.

The lawsuit was filed in 2008 and named only the hospital as a defendant.  In 2010, Vallone’s attorneys become aware that some of the people involved in his care were not employees of the hospital but worked for a company called Saratoga Emergency Physicians. The lawyers tried to serve an amended complaint that added Saratoga Emergency Physicians as a defendant, and also alleged that the hospital had failed to create incident reports and had destroyed photographs of Vallone’s injuries.

The hospital refused to accept the amended complaint and the dispute went before the judge, Stephen Ferradino, who ruled that it was too late to add defendants, and that Vallone’s lawyers had presented no evidence that records were destroyed.

“The Court is struck by the failure of the plaintiff to provide the court and other proof in admissible form to support the proposed amendment such as testimony or documents about the hospital policy plaintiff alleges was violated,” Ferradino wrote in a decision denying the motion.

In 2013 the hospital served a motion for summary judgment, asking that the entire case be dismissed.  Such a motion by defendants is routine in the weeks before a scheduled trial.

“The defendant asserts that summary judgment should be granted in this case because it cannot be held vicariously liable for the acts or omissions of the emergency room physician’s assistant or the hospitalist, because these individuals were not employees of the defendant,” Ferradino wrote in a decision. “However, an exception to this rule exists where a patient comes into a hospital emergency room seeking treatment from the hospital itself rather than a physician of the patient’s own choosing.  Therefore, the hospital is not entitled to summary judgment on this basis.”

In its motion, the hospital presented affidavits from two doctors.  One of them said that there is no standard of care that requires medical personal to prevent a patient having a drink. Both said that the hospital was in no way responsible for Vallone’s injuries.

But Vallone’s expert said that a delay of nearly two weeks before Vallone’s injury was evaluated at a burn unit was gross negligence and had increased the possibility of complications and the amount and duration of pain, as well as decreasing the likelihood of a good recovery.

“The affidavit of plaintiff’s expert is sufficient to demonstrate triable issues of fact regarding the appropriate standard of care and whether any departure by the defendant therefrom was the proximate cause of patient’s injuries,” Ferradino wrote. “The defendant’s motion for summary judgment is denied.” 

The trial started on Tuesday before Justice Ann C. Crowell.  Further details will be posted here as they become available.

A search of the Albany Times Union and the Saratogian web pages produced no mention of the case.