Ernest Fronzuto Secures Win for Patient Rights in NJ Appeals Court
Medical Malpractice Decision Affirmed in New Jersey Appellate Division
As with all areas of law, medical malpractice undergoes continuous evolution, as circumstances change with the times and individual cases pose key questions that must be addressed. Courts often step in to answer these questions, providing clarity and further defining what the laws actually mean. The Supreme Court and Appeals Court of New Jersey faced one such question in two distinct medical malpractice cases of late, each of which involved a patient exposed to potentially preventable harm in the course of their medical treatment. In both cases, our firm’s distinguished founder Ernest P. Fronzuto, represented the plaintiff — the patient. These cases forced the courts to grapple with the limits of hospital privilege in self-critical analysis, asking: when does internal confidentiality give way to a patient’s right to know the events that preceded their injuries.
Patient Entitled to Narrative Road Map to Adverse Event in Medical Records
A New Jersey Appellate Division panel recently decided one of the aforementioned cases, ruling that a patient was entitled to receive a narrative road map from a treating hospital, clearly delineating where in the patient’s medical chart an adverse event was recorded. For the purposes of clarification, an “adverse event” refers to an occurrence, that may or may not have been preventable, resulting in unanticipated illness or injury. Adverse events often involve misdiagnoses, errors during surgery, or failure to treat a medical condition, among many others, whereby the patient suffered potentially preventable harm in the course of their care.
In this case, the Plaintiff sought treatment at a Sussex County medical center in January 2016. After presenting with pain in her right leg, she was diagnosed with a femoral shaft fracture. The femoral shaft, also known as the thigh bone, is the longest and strongest bone in the body. The patient underwent orthopedic surgery, subsequently experiencing lack of mobility and sensation, swelling, numbness, and coolness in her right foot. After being transferred to another medical center in Morris County, she was diagnosed with compartment syndrome, a potential postoperative complication that may result in permanent disability or even death without timely diagnosis and treatment. Sadly, failure to diagnose the patient’s condition ultimately resulted in surgical amputation below her right knee. Quite obviously, when orthopedic surgery leads to permanent disability, this represents a severe adverse event.
According to the recent ruling in this case, when adverse incidents like these and others occur, the hospital must provide a plaintiff bringing a lawsuit against them for medical negligence with a clear road map to the documented incident in the patient’s medical chart. In the absence of such a road map, the patient may be left with thousands of pages of documents regarding their treatment, with no sign of where the event that led to their injuries may be located in these documents. Essentially, it represents a proverbial “stacking the deck” against the plaintiff in a medical malpractice case. Fortunately, this case and another case in which our firm represented the patient, sought to rectify such an unjust imbalance of rights.
Hospitals Must Provide Factual Information Surrounding Adverse Incidents
The prior case, in which Mr. Fronzuto argued on behalf of the plaintiff before the New Jersey Supreme Court, was decided last year. In its decision, the court ruled that although a hospital is entitled to privilege during internal reviews of adverse events under the Patient Safety Act, the patient also has the right to documentation of the events that preceded their injuries. This significant NJ Supreme Court ruling essentially placed limits on hospitals’ right to confidentiality when reviewing adverse incidents, providing patients with the right to know what medical errors or failures to provide adequate care led to their (potentially preventable) injuries.
With regard to these critical victories for patients in New Jersey, Mr. Fronzuto said hospitals, “want to put up a steel curtain around these investigations and say patients are not entitled to know the facts surrounding their treatment. That’s not what the Patient Safety Act stands for.”Ernest Fronzuto
Does Your Case Constitute Medical Malpractice in NJ?
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