Attorney Janis Malec recently won an appellate argument in favor of her client in a case of first impression in Connecticut. She was assisted on the brief by Attorney Mary Ryan. Below is a summary of the case, Kateri Streifel v. William R. Bulkley, 195 Conn. App. 294 (2020).
Summary of the Facts
The plaintiff was a Registered Nurse working in a hospital and the defendant was a patient at that facility. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant claiming that the defendant caused her injuries when he attempted to sit up from a supine position on an examining table, lost his balance, grabbed onto her, and held onto her as he fell back onto the examining table. The plaintiff also claimed that the defendant was “engaging in horseplay while on the examining table.”
On or about February 25, 2016, the plaintiff filed a Complaint against the defendant. The Complaint contained one negligence count. Defendant filed his Answer and Special Defenses on October 4, 2016 denying the allegations of negligence and raising the defense that he owed no duty of care to a paid caregiver because he was a patient in her care at the time of the alleged incident. Subsequently, on November 9, 2016, the defendant moved for summary judgment because the plaintiff failed to state a valid cause of action. The defendant filed a Memorandum of Law in support of his motion, setting forth the basis for his position that “Plaintiff did not have a viable cause of action because allowing a health care provider to recover against her patient is contrary to public policy, as established by applying the four-part test in Murillo v. Seymour Ambulance Assn., Inc., 264 Conn. 474 (2003).”
On December 19, 2016, the plaintiff filed an Objection to Summary Judgment. No depositions had been taken and only standard discovery had been conducted. Neither party filed supporting affidavits. Following oral argument, the court granted the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment by way of a Memorandum of Decision dated December 28, 2017.
On January 9, 2018, Plaintiff filed an appeal. Defendant’s reply was filed on March 14, 2019. The case was argued on September 17, 2019. On January 14, 2020, the Appellate Court affirmed the decision of the trial court. Kateri Streifel v. William R. Bulkley, 195 Conn. App. 294 (2020).
On March 4, 2020, Plaintiff/Appellant filed for Petition to the Connecticut Supreme Court. Defendant/Appellee filed his opposition on March 18, 2020. On March 25, 2020, the petition for certification was denied.
Summary of the Issues
Plaintiff/Appellant claimed that “the trial court improperly rendered summary judgment because (1) the court should have decided the defendant’s motion for summary judgment as a motion to strike so as to afford her the opportunity to replead a legally sufficient cause of action, (2) determining whether a duty existed involves a question of fact for the jury to decide, (3) the trial court’s application of the Murillo test to this case improperly invoked the abolished doctrine of assumption of the risk because of its analysis of the plaintiff’s status as a nurse and (4)assuming that the determination whether a duty exists is a question of fact for the court to decide, the court incorrectly determined that imposing a duty of care on the defendant while the plaintiff was furnishing medical care to him was inconsistent with public policy.” Kateri Streifel v. William R. Bulkley, 195 Conn. App. 294 (2020).
The Appellate Court rejected the plaintiff’s arguments, holding:
1. The plaintiff waived any claim that the trial court improperly failed to treat the motion for summary judgment as a motion to strike because she failed to object to the trial court deciding the matter through summary judgment and, in the alternative, the plaintiff failed to offer to amend her complaint should the court determine the allegations were legally insufficient.
2. Determination of whether a duty of care existed under the circumstances of this case was a question of law that the court was permitted to decide through summary proceedings. Furthermore, the Appellate Court held that the question of law that no duty existed could be decided solely on public policy grounds.
3. Applying the test set forth in Murillo v Seymour Ambulance Assn, Inc. was not inconsistent with the abolition of the doctrine of assumption of the risk by plaintiff as a nurse, to deny her a recovery, because in cases involving medical treatment the Connecticut Supreme Court continues to consider the normal expectation of the participants in the activity, including their statuses.
4. The Appellate Court declined, as a matter of law, to recognize there is a duty owed by a patient to avoid negligent conduct that causes harm to a medical provider while the patient is receiving medical care from that provider, thus it found the trial court did not act inconsistently with public policy.
In applying the public policy considerations set forth in Murillo, the Appellate Court found they weighed against recognizing a duty owed by the defendant. Specifically, (a) the normal expectations of registered nurses and patients under the circumstances; and (b) balancing the “unlikely enhancement” patient and provider safety by recognizing such a duty against potentially higher medical care costs for patients caused by increased litigation, potentially jeopardizing patient medical confidentiality, the provider’s access to workers’ compensation as a remedy, and the lack of any other jurisdiction recognizing such a duty, considered together all weighed against recognizing such a duty. Furthermore, the Court stated its decision was based on its conclusion that the goals of providing uninhibited access to medical care, encouraging patients to share sensitive information without fear of loss of confidentiality, and the safety of both providers and patients are all important to the integrity of the Connecticut health care system.
The Court took pains to point out that in determining the defendant patient owed no duty of care to the plaintiff nurse, the opinion does not apply to acts by a patient that are intentional or reckless, wanton or malicious. In reaching its decision, the Court was not opining on injuries that may occur outside the context of receiving medical treatment. “Indeed, paramount to our decision that the defendant did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care to avoid negligence in the present case is that the plaintiff sustained her injuries while she was providing medical care to her patient, the defendant.”