The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled that a badly sunburned patient failed to meet the burden of res ipsa loquitur in a medical malpractice lawsuit against his dermatologist.
Kenneth W. Smith was a patient of Dr. Alan R. Gilbert, a dermatologist at Dermatology Associates of Fort Wayne PC, a/k/a Dermatology & Laser Surgery Association of Fort Wayne PC, where he received Psoralen UVA treatments for his psoriasis. For a 10-year period starting in December 1994, he had 147 treatments which involved him taking the drug Psoralen and then being exposed to UVA light.
After his last laser treatment on Dec. 8, 2004, he returned to work but became ill and eventually went to the emergency room. From there, he was admitted to the Burn Unit of St. Joseph Hospital in Fort Wayne with first and second degree burns to about 84 percent of his body.
On Feb. 6, 2009, Smith and his wife filed a complaint against the doctor’s office. They alleged that the negligence of the medical personnel or machine malfunction created a res ipsa loquitur inference that an act of malpractice may have occurred.
The trial court concluded the Smiths had failed to establish that the dermatology practice had exclusive control of the PUVA machine or that the injuries allegedly suffered by Smith would not have occurred without negligence. Also, the court found that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur was inapplicable and that the Smiths had failed to meet their burden of establishing by direct or circumstantial evidence that DLSA breached its duty to care.
The Smiths appealed claiming the trial court erred by concluding that they had failed to present sufficient evidence to invoke the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.
In affirming the trial court’s decision, the Indiana Court of Appeals found in K, 02A03-1201-CT-41, that the Smiths were unable to meet the first element of res ipsa loquitur, that the medical office had exclusive control of the PUVA machine. In addition, the couple was unable to establish the second element of the doctrine that his injuries would not have occurred without negligence.