Vermont Supreme Court Affirms Medical Malpractice Ruling


The process of a medical malpractice lawsuit can be very technical and lengthy. Failure of either party to complete any part of the process to the satisfaction of the court could lead to a ruling against that party. An example of this is a Vermont case where a judgment was entered in favor of the defendants because the plaintiff repeatedly failed to respond to discovery interrogatories in an adequate manner.

On May 2, 2007, Dr. Laurie Spaulding performed a weight-loss surgery on Deborah A. Stella at Fletcher Allen Health Care (Fletcher). After being discharged to a nursing to rehabilitate, the nursing home confirmed in June 2007 that Stella had contracted a bacterial infection at the site of the incision. Stella died in November 2007 from the infection. She had received treatment by several medical professionals during that time.

A lawsuit was filed against Spaulding and Fletcher in November 2009 by the representative of the deceased, Albert Stella. The lawsuit alleges that a Dr. Stickney, the deceased’s primary care physician recommended a course of antibiotics, but was instructed not to prescribe them by Spaulding.

The defendants in the case sent the plaintiff a set of interrogatories and request to produce in January 2010. One of the interrogatories requested expert witness identities, their subjects, and their opinions and the substance of their facts. Another interrogatory asked for a statement of the negligent actions or omissions alleged to have been committed by Dr. Spaulding. This information requested included the specific dates and times of the acts and how they impacted the patient as well as what would have been the proper treatment.

When the plaintiffs did not promptly respond the defendants filed a motion to compel in April 2010. However, when the plaintiff responded he did not specify an expert and did not reply to the entire second interrogatory mentioned above. Another motion to compel was filed and the plaintiff responded but failed to give what the defendants argued was the required specificity. After a hearing in June and more motions to compel the court sanctioned the plaintiff for noncompliance and precluded the plaintiff from using evidence that was requested in the two mentioned interrogatories at trial.

However, without an expert witness or the evidence of the defendants’ negligence the plaintiff would not be able to oppose a motion for summary judgment which the court granted in the defendants favor. The plaintiffs appealed to the state’s Supreme Court.

The plaintiff contended on appeal that discovery matters were resolved by a hearing held in June and a motion to compel made in July had no basis; and the disclosure in the interrogatories was adequate and there was no further information required. The court agreed with the trial court on these matters and affirmed the summary judgment.

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