Miss. Court of Appeals reverses dismissal of negligence claim in William Carey lawsuit

Gavel on sounding block
Gavel on sounding block(Source: Gray News)
Updated: Aug. 12, 2020 at 6:51 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WDAM) - The Mississippi Court of Appeals issued a decision Tuesday reversing a Forrest County Circuit Court dismissal of a lawsuit against William Carey University.

On July 10, 2015, Abigail Murphy, a student of osteopathic medicine at William Carey University, filed a lawsuit against the university, College of Osteopathic Medicine Dean James Turner and Dr. Richard Margaitis, her faculty proctor.

In the complaint, Murphy alleged negligence, breach of contract and negligent hiring, training and/or supervision, claiming she suffered lower back injuries after a sacral spring test during a clinical skills assessment proctored by Margaitis in April 2013.

During the exam, Murphy claims her and a classmate were taking turns performing manual therapies on each other. The classmate was assigned to perform a sacral spring test on Murphy’s lower back, but he failed to perform the test to match a diagnosis.

Margaitis then assessed the classmates’ work, providing feedback that included readministering the sacral spring test on Murphy’s lower back. After providing a diagnosis, Margaitis asked the classmate to demonstrate the treatment, which included palpating Murhpy’s lower back, according to the lawsuit.

Murphy claims she began experiencing pain and swelling in her lower back later that day. During the next couple of months, Murphy sought treatment for chronic back pain from doctors, nurses and physical therapists, including treatment from Margaitis.

The two parties disputed whether Murphy’s claim of negligence in the lawsuit should be evaluated as alleged medical malpractice or ordinary negligence. Murphy argued Margaitis’ acts in the assessment fell under ordinary negligence, while the university argued that her claims fell under medical malpractice.

In its ruling, the Mississippi Court of Appeals said it appears the circuit court reviewed Murphy’s claim of negligence under the standard for medical malpractice, which the Court agreed with.

In December 2017, the Forrest County Circuit Court granted the university’s motion for summary judgement, ruling there was insufficient expert testimony for the negligence and breach of contract claims and that Murphy failed to provide responsive evidence that Margaitis was negligently trained or supervised.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the circuit court’s ruling on the medical malpractice claim while affirming its decision to grant summary judgement on the claims of breach of contract and negligent hiring, training and/or supervision.

The Court found that Murphy offered evidence that could establish a causal relationship between her back injury and Margaitis’ alleged actions and remanded the medical malpractice claim to the Forrest County Circuit Court for further proceedings.

Court of Appeals Presiding Judge Jack L. Wilson dissented in part on the Court’s ruling, saying in a separate written opinion that the circuit court was correct in granting summary judgement for the negligence claim because Murphy “failed to show that there is a genuine dispute of material fact on the issue of proximate causation.”

Chief Judge Donna M. Barnes joined Wilson in his opinion.

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