Tammy Trees Wins Summary Judgment Motion in Medical Malpractice Case

Tammy A. Trees secured a summary judgment dismissal in a matter venued in Suffolk County Supreme Court involving a medical malpractice lawsuit against a radiologist.  This dismissal was granted prior to any depositions having been conducted.

Plaintiff’s decedent was a then 39-year-old married female with children who went to her primary medical physician with complaints of headaches for which she was referred for an MRI of the brain without contrast.  The MRI of the brain was read by our client, a radiologist, as unremarkable aside from sinusitis.  Seven months later, plaintiff’s decedent was diagnosed with metastatic brain cancer, which ultimately led to her death.  Plaintiff claimed that our client negligently failed to use contrast in performing the MRI of the brain and failed to diagnose abnormal growths/tumors, leading to metastasis and death.

Ms. Trees argued that our client made the correct diagnosis and that the images did not reveal evidence of malignancy.  She further argued that it was not the duty of the radiologist to determine whether an MRI should be performed with or without contrast, citing case law directly on point.  An expert affirmation was submitted in support, opining that the role of the radiologist is limited to interpreting the study as ordered by the referring physician and correctly documenting the findings.

In an order dated March 23, 2021, Justice George Nolan granted Ms. Trees’ motion for summary judgment.  The Judge found that although physicians owe a general duty of care to their patients, that duty may be limited to those medical functions undertaken by the physician and relied on by the patient.  The question of whether a physician owed a duty to the plaintiff is a question for the court and is not an appropriate subject for expert opinion.  Judge Nolan found that the radiologist assumed the limited role of taking images, interpreting the images, and documenting their findings pursuant to the direction of the plaintiff’s decedent’s primary care physician.  The radiologist did not assume a general duty of care to schedule or urge further testing or diagnose plaintiff’s brain cancer.  As such, Judge Nolan dismissed the Complaint against the radiologist.