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Tobias v. University of Mississippi Medical Center

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

September 24, 2019

JAMES EARL TOBIAS, JR. AND TIFFANY TOBIAS APPELLANTS
v.
UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI MEDICAL CENTER APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/28/2018

          HINDS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. JEFF WEILL SR. TRIAL JUDGE:

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS: ROBERT G. GERMANY

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: WALTER T. JOHNSON SUSAN LATHAM STEFFEY

          BEFORE J. WILSON, P.J., WESTBROOKS AND McDONALD, JJ.

          J. WILSON, P.J.

         ¶1. James Tobias was rushed to the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) after a forklift fell on his head. Four days later, while still being treated at UMMC, Tobias fell and allegedly hit his head. Tobias sued UMMC. He alleged that UMMC's nurses were negligent and that his fall caused additional injuries. The circuit court granted summary judgment for UMMC because Tobias failed to present any evidence that he sustained any injury as a result of the fall. We affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. On October 30, 2013, James Tobias was injured at work when a two-ton forklift fell on his head and face. He was taken to UMMC and admitted to the surgical intensive care unit for trauma surgery services. Tobias's injuries were severe, including multiple fractures, a large epidural hematoma (bleeding between the skull and the outer membrane covering the brain), and optic nerve damage that resulted in permanent blindness.

         ¶3. On November 2, 2013, Tobias was extubated and transferred to a hospital room. Tobias's mother was sitting with him at his bedside. Around 2 a.m. on November 3, she reported that Tobias stood up from his bed and then fell to the floor and hit his head. Tobias was taken to radiology to check for new or worsening bleeding. The imaging showed the "expected evolution" of Tobias's epidural hematoma. Dr. Gustavo Luzardo performed a craniotomy to remove blood from the hematoma. Tobias was discharged from UMMC to begin rehabilitation on November 15.

         ¶4. Tobias later sued UMMC for medical malpractice. He alleged that the nursing staff at UMMC negligently failed to monitor him closely. He also alleged that the fall caused or contributed to his injuries. Tobias designated a nurse to testify as an expert regarding alleged breaches of the nursing standard of care. However, he did not designate an expert to testify that he was injured as a result of his fall. UMMC moved for summary judgment based on Tobias's failure to designate an expert who could testify regarding causation. In response, Tobias argued that expert testimony was unnecessary because his medical records were sufficient to establish causation. The circuit court granted UMMC's motion for summary judgment. Tobias filed a notice of appeal.

         ANALYSIS

         ¶5. We review a decision granting or denying summary judgment de novo. Hubbard v. Wansley, 954 So.2d 951, 956 (¶9) (Miss. 2007). The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if the record evidence "show[s] that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." M.R.C.P. 56(c). The evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Massey v. Tingle, 867 So.2d 235, 238 (¶6) (Miss. 2004). However, "[t]he non-moving party may not rest upon mere allegations or denials in the pleadings but must set forth specific facts showing that there are genuine issues for trial." Id.

         ¶6. A prima facie case of medical malpractice requires proof of (1) the applicable standard of care, (2) a breach of the required standard, and (3) an injury proximately caused by the breach. Norman v. Anderson Reg'l Med. Ctr., 262 So.3d 520, 523 (ΒΆ12) (Miss. 2019). "As a rule, the plaintiff must demonstrate each of these elements through medical-expert testimony, and the expert must . . . establish ...


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