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In October, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed an appeal from a SorbaraLaw victory at the Court of Appeal of Ontario marking the successful end of a long process for our client’s family.

Back in February, 2011, Greg Murdoch, a partner in charge of Sorbara Law’s litigation Group, and Steve Kenney, counsel to the firm, obtained a significant Judgment in a medical malpractice action involving the misdiagnosis of an aortic dissection in a pregnant woman. The trial took place over five weeks in the fall of 2010. The Supreme Court’s decision affirmed the win at trial.

Our client, Christine Manary, was 28 years old and 32 weeks pregnant with her first child when she attended Grand River Hospital in August of 2003 with significant radiating chest pain. On admission, her symptoms in addition to the severe chest pain included an unusual heart murmur and were considered to be consistent with either a pulmonary embolism (blood clot) or an aortic dissection (a tearing of the inner lining of the artery). The doctors caring for Christine downplayed the possibility of a dissection because of her age. Christine died nine days later when the dissection ruptured on the day she was to be discharged. Fortunately, her daughter was delivered by caesarian section and survived without any adverse consequences.

During her admission, Christine had numerous diagnostic tests which suggested a pulmonary embolism was not the cause of her symptoms. Diagnostic imaging in fact disclosed that Christine had a dangerously large aortic aneurysm which is a bulging of an artery. The significance of this symptom and the danger it imposed and how it might relate to Christine’s symptoms was not acknowledged.

The Court reviewed Grand River Hospital’s policy of assigning a most responsible physician for each admitted patient.

For obstetrical patients, the obstetrician is the most responsible physician. The MRP is responsible for writing and clarifying orders, providing a plan of care, obtaining consultations as appropriate and coordinating the care of the patient.

The Court agreed with SorbaraLaw’s submissions that the obstetrician in this case failed to discharge his duties as most responsible physician because he focused only on Christine’s obstetrical issues and let other non-cardiac specialists deal with Christine’s cardiac issues. The obstetrician failed to exercise independent critical judgment when an alternative diagnosis to pulmonary embolism should have been pursued.

The Court preferred the evidence of the vascular surgeon called on behalf of Christine who testified that if Christine’s condition had been recognized for its seriousness, she could have had surgery within hours.

The obstetrician appealed the decision to the Ontario Court of Appeal which affirmed the trial Judge’s decision noting that an MRP must exercise independent critical judgment when assessing a patient and consulting with other specialists.

A motion seeking leave for a further appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was denied.

Medical malpractice cases are extremely challenging and always hard fought battles. This is a significant achievement for our client. Congratulations to the SorbaraLaw litigation team!

Article written by
Cynthia Davis,
B.A. (Hons), LL.B. was called to the Bar in 2007 and is a member of SorbaraLaw’s litigation group. Cynthia works out of the Waterloo office.

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