Sixth Circuit Denies Negligence Claim for Lack of Physical Injury

When considering the elements of a negligence claim, personal injury attorneys often focus on whether a duty can be established, or whether causation can be shown.  Many times, the existence of an injury may be presumed, since, without an injury, it is unlikely that the plaintiff would be seeking to instigate a lawsuit in the first place.  Proof of injury, however, is a critical aspect of any negligence claim. Without an injury, a defendant cannot be held liable, and a plaintiff has no damages to recover. Time and money would be spent on litigation with no prospect of financial reward.  For these reasons, identifying your injury as a plaintiff is crucial to a negligence case.

In Means v. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Tamesha Means brought a claim for ordinary negligence against the USCCB as the entity overseeing the hospital where she received treatment during her pregnancy. Ms. Means was diagnosed early in her pregnancy with preterm premature rupture of membrane. This condition often leads to stillbirth and abortion, or induced miscarriage is frequently recommended. In Ms. Means’ case, the hospital where she was, Mercy Health, diagnosed Ms. Means but did not give her any treatment options. Instead, it offered her pain medication and sent her home. Ms. Means repeatedly returned on several occasions for increasingly more painful contractions and a related bacterial infection. Ultimately, she delivered her baby early, in breech, and it died within three hours.

Two years after the lawsuit, it was discovered that Mercy Hospital may not have offered Ms. Means any alternative options because the USCCB directives prevented the hospital from mentioning miscarriage or abortion treatments.  Ms. Means sued, arguing that the USCCB was liable for what happened to her and was negligent because their ethical guidelines interfered with their ability to provide proper medical care. Before the trial court, Ms. Means’ claims were dismissed for failure to state a claim, and she appealed.

Ms. Means argued that there was a duty under the law on the part of the USCCB to ensure that their ethical directives did not contradict medical standards of care for pregnant women. The Sixth Circuit questioned whether such a duty existed but held that, even if it did, Ms. Means’ claim failed because she could not show that USCCB’s directives caused her injuries.  First, the court noted that negligence requires that a plaintiff show that “but for” the error by the defendant, the plaintiff would not have suffered an injury. Here, it was unclear that USCCB’s directives did lead to Ms. Means’ injuries because the directives did allow for operations and treatments meant to cure “serious pathological conditions of a pregnant woman,” even if they would result in the death of an unborn child. Thus, while Mercy Health may not have taken such actions, it was unclear the directives directly prohibited them from doing so.

Second, the Sixth Circuit found that Ms. Means had not alleged an actual injury sufficient for a negligent claim. It noted that mental and physical pain and suffering were insufficient to state a claim for negligence, since pain alone is not a physical injury. Moreover, to the extent that Ms. Means’ miscarriage could be considered an injury, it was her health circumstances, rather than Mercy Health’s actions, that caused a miscarriage to occur. Accordingly, the Sixth Circuit held that since Ms. Means had not alleged a clear injury resulting from the directives, she had not stated a claim for negligence, and her lawsuit was properly dismissed.

If you believe that you have been injured by another party’s failure to provide you with proper treatment, information, or resources, knowledgeable Tennessee personal injury attorney Eric Beasley can help you put together a strong complaint that sufficiently alleges all of the elements for a negligence claim, including a physical injury. For more information or to discuss the circumstances of your case, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Waiver of Medical Malpractice Claims Against Tennessee State Employees, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, July 21, 2016.

Sixth Circuit Remands Tennessee Medical Malpractice Claim for Widow of Veteran, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, March 3, 2016

What You Need to File a Medical Malpractice Claim, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, January 27, 2016.