Tennessee medical malpractice case reversed for judicial bias

Posted By Kinnard, Clayton & Beveridge || Feb 25, 2011

The dismissal of a pediatric malpractice case by a Nashville judge was overturned this week by the Tennessee Court of Appeals. The case, which involved the 2007 wrongful death of a 12-year-old girl after an alleged delayed diagnosis of cancer by a Vanderbilt University surgeon, was dismissed last year by Davidson County Circuit Judge Barbara Haynes. It was later revealed that Haynes is a voting member and former chairwoman of the hospital's board of directors.

In its ruling, the Court of Appeals did not find that Haynes was actually biased, but that her seat on the hospital's board gave the appearance that the judge had a conflict of interest. The plaintiff had asked the judge to recuse herself from the case, but Judge Haynes had refused. She defended her refusal to step down by saying her position on the hospital's board did not involve governance issues.

Whether Judge Haynes personally felt she had a conflict of interest or not, the Court of Appeals determined that the plaintiffs had a reasonable complaint.

"Applying an objective standard, we believe that the court's impartiality might reasonably be questioned under the circumstances presented," the Court wrote.

The Court of Appeals has ordered all of Haynes' orders in the medical malpractice case to be set aside and that Haynes be replaced by a new judge who will re-hear the case.

Plaintiff alleges negligence by doctor, Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt resulted in her daughter's death

The case arose after a 12-year-old girl from Smyrna died in 2007. Her mother alleges that a Vanderbilt pediatric surgeon should have recognized that the girl had cancer, but his treatment plan was flawed and caused a delay in discovering the cancer. As a result of the delay, it was too late to save her daughter's life.

The mother filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital and the pediatric surgeon, asking for $10 million in damages.

Vanderbilt spokesperson John Howser said that the hospital will not contest the Court of Appeals' decision to set aside Judge Haynes' ruling.

The mother is elated by the Court of Appeals' decision. As she was trying to get justice after the death of her child, she also had to deal with a fight with the court system, and she had started to lose faith in the judiciary.

"I can tell you that my confidence in the judicial system is being restored," she told the Tennessean. "Today is a glorious day because someone has listened. It's been four long years."

"Someone has listened" -- that is the key. Often, one of the most important things to those who have been harmed or lost loved ones is simply to find someone who will listen and provide answers.

Categories: Medical Malpractice
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