Hoffer & Sheremet Wins Monumental Appeal

Hoffer & Sheremet won an appeal in a major case: Swanzy v Spectrum Health Medical Group.

In this case, the plaintiff alleged that a medical assistant whose job was to answer phones and convey messages between patient and healthcare provider instead gave bad medical advice. Mrs. Swanzy’s husband was diabetic. The doctor changed his insulin medication. The assistant had a phone call with Mrs. Swanzy at around 4 p.m. on a Friday, at the end of her work-week, to let Mrs. Swanzy know the prescription was being called in. Mrs. Swanzy knew that the medication, Kwikpens, would not be available at the pharmacy until Monday, so she asked the assistant if she could instead use vial insulin that was left over from a previous time. 

According to Mrs. Swanzy, the assistant, likely reading the dosage on the prescription, said “Yes, 100 units.” Unfortunately, vial insulin is in a concentration of 5x that of the Kwikpens. As a result, when Mrs. Swanzy followed the assistant’s instructions and administered “100 units” of vial insulin to her husband, it was really 5 times the amount that should have been given. Mr. Swanzy fell into a hypoglycemic state. He languished for about six weeks before dying.

The tragic dosing error that occurred here was known to be a recurring error. This error occurred on June 24, 2016. On July 8, 2016, the FDA approved a dedicated syringe for vial insulin – hopefully preventing a similar tragedy from ever happening in the future.

Through our attorneys, Mrs. Swanzy filed a multi-count Complaint in Grand Rapids that included both claims for medical malpractice and “ordinary negligence”. The primary difference between the two is whether a “professional relationship” existed between the parties. Importantly, the law specifically defines the relationship that can be considered a “professional relationship” for purposes of medical malpractice. Only the following can be sued for medical malpractice: (i) a licensed healthcare provider; (ii) a licensed healthcare facility; or (iii) the employees or agents of a licensed healthcare facility. Neither the medical assistant or Spectrum Health Medical Group were any of those things, so we argued they could only be sued for ordinary negligence, not malpractice. The defense argued that because a licensed healthcare provider was tangentially involved, the medical assistant was acting as his agent, and therefore, should benefit from his licensing status. 

In a unanimous opinion, the Court of Appeals agreed with us. This was the first time this legal issue has been considered, making it a landmark opinion, and again confirming that Hoffer & Sheremet lawyers are leaders in the law. The decision is very important to Mrs. Swanzy, but also to future clients, because it means that there will be no cap on Mrs. Swanzy’s non-economic damage award.

If you think your doctor, hospital or other healthcare provider made a mistake, call our medical malpractice lawyers at 616.278.0888, complete our Free Consultation Form, or send us an email at info@hoffersheremet.com. Many times we can tell you if you have a valid claim in our initial phone consultation.  No appointment is necessary for an initial phone consultation.