Appeals Court Revives Malpractice Case Stemming from Wrongful Sinus Infection Diagnosis

doctor.jpgA patient who suffered protracted negative effects because her doctor incorrectly diagnosed her encephalitis as a sinus infection received a renewed opportunity to seek financial recovery for her harm recently. The Louisiana Court of Appeal ruled that the neurologist the patient retained to testify as expert witness could opine about the proper standard of care of a general practice doctor.

In the spring of 1998, Jeana Kieffer traveled to the Ochsner Clinic in Metarie, complaining of headache, pressure, congestion, and fever. Jo Ellen Plunkett, a doctor at the clinic, diagnosed Kieffer as having a sinus infection and prescribed medication accordingly. Two days later, the woman began experiencing severe memory loss and difficulty breathing. Emergency room doctors diagnosed Kieffer with herpetic encephalitis. The patient eventually recovered but experienced severe headaches and other symptoms for nearly a year.

A medical review panel concluded that the doctor did not act inappropriately. The panel determined that the patient lacked the sort of symptoms, like neck stiffness and neurological deficits, that should have alerted the doctor that Kieffer had a more serious problem.


Kieffer and her husband sued the doctor. The doctor sought summary judgment, arguing that the patient could not offer the necessary expert testimony about the doctor’s failure to meet the standard of care. The patient opposed the motion, asserting that she had an expert doctor who would testify that Plunkett fell short of the appropriate standard. The trial court agreed with the doctor and threw out the case.

The appeals court concluded otherwise. The court noted that the law creates two different standards of care, one for general practice doctors and one for specialists. Even though Plunkett was a general practitioner, and the patient’s proposed expert was a specialist, the expert’s evidence was nevertheless sufficient. The court explained that specialists may serve as experts in cases involving generalists if they have the necessary knowledge in the relevant area of medicine “to testify regarding the standard of care in a general practitioner’s locale.”

In previous cases, a periodontist and a an oral surgeon had testified about the appropriate standard of care for general dentists. In another case, an obstetric surgeon had testified about the proper standard of care of a general practitioner performing a tubal litigation.

Kieffer’s expert testified that he had previously worked as an emergency room physician in the same general locale as Plunkett. He also opined that even a general practitioner should have taken extra action, such as performing a spinal tap or admitting the patient to the hospital for additional evaluation, when presented with a fever of 101.6 degrees that narcotic medicine did not lower.

No patient should have to worry about suffering severe, or sometimes even permanent, harm because the doctor to whom that patient entrusts his or her health fails to perform at the level that every patient should be able to expect of a doctor. If you’ve been injured because a doctor failed to act or took an incorrect action, contact the Louisiana injury attorneys at the Cardone Law Firm. Our attorneys have the skill and experience to help you pursue the recovery you deserve.

For your confidential consultation contact us online or phone Cardone at 1-888-89-CARDONE (1-888-892-2736).

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Appeals Court Upholds Judgment Against Pediatrician, But Tosses Case Against Hospital in Infant Malpractice Case, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, March 28, 2014
Failure to Diagnose Pregnancy Leads to Invasive Emergency Surgery, According to Patient’s Lawsuit, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, Nov. 9, 2013