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July 1, 2021

Complaint Alleging Nurse's Error Sounds in Medical Malpractice Only, Not Ordinary Negligence

In its recent decision in Holland et al. v. Cayuga Med. Ctr. at Ithaca, Inc.,1 the Third Department affirmed a lower court’s order denying the defendant’s motion for summary judgement dismissing the plaintiffs’ complaint alleging medical malpractice as a result of the misadministration of Alteplase (tPA). In its decision, the Third Department distinguished between what constitutes medical malpractice and what constitutes ordinary negligence; the court determined that the case was one of medical malpractice only.

In Holland, a nurse, while assisting a physician, mistakenly programed the pump administering the tPA that the plaintiff received by infusion after suffering a stroke. Within thirty minutes, the plaintiff showed signs of significant distress and the tPA was discontinued.

In concluding that the case was one of medical malpractice only, the Third Department elucidated the difference between medical malpractice and ordinary negligence. The court stated that “[t]he distinction between ordinary negligence and malpractice turns on whether the acts or omissions complained of involve a matter of medical science or art requiring special skills not ordinarily possessed by lay persons or whether the conduct complained of can instead by assessed on the basis of the common everyday experience of the trier of the facts.”2

In analyzing the claims asserted in Holland, the Third Department determined that they were based upon allegations that the defendants acted negligently in their medical care and treatment of the plaintiff, including but not limited to the defendants’ actions or omissions with respect to the proper dosing of tPA, the progression of the stroke without proper medication administration, etc. Further, the court concluded that since the nurse was an integral part of the process of rendering medical treatment to the plaintiff, the nurse’s error did not transform the claim to ordinary negligence.

The Holland decision clarifies what actions by medical professionals will be deemed to sound in medical malpractice and not ordinary negligence. In practice, the focus is on the conduct and whether it constitutes medical treatment or “bears a substantial relationship to the rendition of medical treatment by a licensed physician.”

If you have questions regarding the content of this alert, please contact Tara Sciortino, counsel, at tsciortino@barclaydamon.com, or another member of the firm’s Professional Liability Practice Area.

1 2021 NY Slip Op. 03896 (3d Dept. 2021).

2 Matter of Barresi v. State of New York, 232 A.D. 2d 962, 963 (3d Dept. 1996).

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