Last month, the judge in the Michael Colombini lawsuit (the case resulting from the infamous death by oxygen tank / cylinder brought into the MRI room while the boy was in the scanner) decided on three of the last outstanding pre-trial motions. The Judge’s decisions appear to have excused one defendant, entirely, and tempered the degree of potential liability for others.
The first of the three motions decided was from GE Healthcare, seeking to be excused, altogether, as a defendant in the case. The trial judge granted GE’s motion, citing (primarily) Riegel v. Medtronic which gives manufacturers of medical devices very broad protections in state courts because the devices have been vetted for safety at the federal level.
The second outstanding motion, which was one filed by the Colombini family’s attorney, sought the ability to reinstate punative damages claims against GE Healthcare for their involvement in the accident. This motion was rendered moot when the judge granted GE’s motion to be excused from the case, entirely.
The last of the decided motions was a smorgasbord of requests of the remaining (non-GE) defendants to dismiss claims against assorted defendants, to disallow punitive damages against some defendants, and to disallow claims of ’emotional distress’ by the father of the boy.
- The judge dismissed all causes of action against the senior MR technologist in the suite at the time of the accident because (1) it was not demonstrated that he bore any responsibility for a safe suite environment (in fact the judge’s decision defines the limits of his responsibility to the scanner room, itself), and (2) he was not the tech administering the scan for the boy and therefore had no direct responsibility for his care. The judge’s notes also diminish the technologists’ role in safety by stating that they are not MD’s and had minimal safety training.
- The judged refused to dismiss claims agains New York Medical College (affiliated with the hospital) based on the College’s contention that NYMC had no direct role in training of persons involved in the accident, allowing this issue to be tried in court.
- The judge dismissed claims associated with the father’s contention that he suffered emotional distress based on the legal definition which requires that the person filing the claim feel “unreasonbly threatened by bodily harm” directly to them. That the father felt that his son was unreasonably threatened falls outside the legal definition for the basis of a claim of emotional distress.
- The judge refused to dismiss claims for punitive damages against UIMA, the company that ran the MRI unit for the hospital, allowing that the failure to provide complete and effective safety training may ammount to “utter indifference or conscious disregard for the safety of others.”
- The judge stated that she thought that the technologist administering the scan exaggerated her job duties when she had previously stated that technologists were the MRI suite “gatekeepers” with responsibility to keep a “watchful eye” to prevent ferromagnetic material from being brought in. Since, per the judge, overall suite safety was NOT deemed a reasonable responsibility of a technologist, the judge disallowed the possibility of punitive damages against the tech that administered the scan.
- Finally, the judge dismissed any action for punitive damages against the radiologist who served both as the hospital’s Director of Radiology and president of UIMA, the contractor providing MRI services to the hospital, because he “had no experience supervising MRI facilities . . . and did not view himself as having taken on any supervisory responsibilities with respect to the MRI facility. . .”
If we accept that some level of MRI safety should be a basic right of everyone inside the MRI suite (including staff), then we need to identify who has a role in making sure that MRI safety is actually implemented.
My view is that all parties involved in providing and administering MRI exams have an obligation to the safety of the patient. This includes the organizations who own and operate the scanners for establishing standards and providing applicable training and verifying competencies, directors / administrators / safety officers who have broad duties on behalf of the organization for the protection of patient safety, any person — whether MD, RN or technologist — who works in the MR environment, sites where accidents occur to report incidents in which there was a reasonable potential for harm, and MR equipment manufacturers to actively collect, report, and distribute details of accidents that might help others to better protect against these risks. These responsibilities are both institutional and individual.
If the judge’s decisions on these motions are not challenged (as has happened previously in this case), we should be inching closer towards a real trial date. As of the date of this post, the case is still scheduled to be fully resolved by early January of 2010. It remains to be seen whether that deadline will hold, or be pushed back.
If you would like to read this most recent decision by the judge on the three pre-trial motions she decided, it is available for download. Just click here to download the judge’s decision in Word format (.doc) from the blog site New York Injury Cases. To see the blog site, just click here.
Of course, if you come back here to the ‘MRI Metal Detector’ blog, or subscribe to the RSS updates (click here for more information on the free RSS subscription), I’ll provide you with any and all updates as I get them.Tobias Gilk, President & MRI Safety Director Mednovus, Inc. Tobias.Gilk@Mednovus.com www.MEDNOVUS.com
UPDATE: Details of the finalized lawsuit settlement are available here.