In the world of personal injury law, there are innumerable circumstances in which injury to a person may arise, including as the result of a motor vehicle accident, a dog bite, occupier’s liability, product liability, or professional negligence, to name a few. One specific form of professional negligence is medical malpractice, when an injured person alleges that they have suffered damage or injury specifically because of the actions taken (or not taken, as the case may be) by a treating medical professional. 

Medical malpractice cases can be challenging because most patients are not themselves physicians and, therefore, have yet to undergo formal medical training. As such, it can be difficult for laypeople to discern when the medical treatment they (or a loved one) received was substandard or amounted to malpractice. Generally speaking, successfully proving a medical malpractice allegation involves convincing the trier of fact that the treatment received fell below the standard of care expected of a medical professional in this country. 

Injured Man Dies Two Weeks After Discharge from Hospital

The case of Willick v Willard illustrates the evidentiary issues common to medical malpractice cases. The case involved Brian Willick, who, on March 10, 2014, suffered injuries when a temporary staircase collapsed below him while he was in the midst of renovation work, causing Brian to fall into the basement of the property. Brian was taken to the hospital, where he was treated by Dr. Peter Willard, who eventually discharged Brian to his family doctor, Dr. Michael Csanadi, for follow-up. Brian died two weeks later, on March 24, 2014, at 51 years of age. The cause of Brian’s death was blood loss resulting from the rupture of a hematoma in his spleen. 

Widow and Children Sue for Medical Malpractice

Brian’s widow and children then commenced a claim against Drs Csanadi and Willard, alleging medical malpractice in their treatment of Brian. The case was dismissed by the trial judge, who was satisfied that Brian’s spleen had not been injured at the time of his treatment by Dr. Willard, which meant that Dr. Willard had not missed anything when he discharged Brian to the care of his family physician, Dr. Csanadi. The trial judge was also satisfied that Dr. Csanadi’s decision to clear Brian to return to work was reasonable and that, thus, no malpractice had occurred on the part of either doctor. 

The Family Appeal to the Court of Appeal

The family appealed the dismissal of their case to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal noted at the outset that Brian, the deceased, had suffered during his life from a condition called non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver, in addition to which he suffered from splenic hypertension and an enlarged spleen. Taken in concert, the court noted, “Compared to the average person, Mr. Willick had a relatively high risk of splenic rupture and consequent fatal injury.”  The court further described the two types of splenic injury that may occur: splenic rupture, which usually results in bleeding into the space between internal organs and the inner lining of the abdominal wall, and subcapsular hematoma, where bleeding is contained within a capsule inside the spleen, and which may “rupture on a delayed basis after an initial trauma to the spleen.”  Brian had died as a result of a subscapular hematoma, which arose 14 days after his fall.  

The Doctors are Found to Have Provided Appropriate Treatment

The Court next recounted the sequence of events in this case, including a review of all medical tests and procedures Brian underwent while in the hospital in the care of Dr. Willard. The court noted that all of the scans, tests, and examinations conducted in the hospital consistently revealed that Brian had a pre-existing enlarged spleen but that no splenic injury was evident. Given the consistent findings of the many and varied tests Brian underwent at the hospital, each of which indicated that Brian had not suffered an injury to his spleen in the fall, the Court of Appeal was satisfied that Dr. Willard had not committed malpractice in concluding that Brian had not injured his spleen in the fall, and in discharging Brian to the care of his family physician for follow-up.

Brian attended his family doctor, Dr. Csanadi, several days after his accident on March 18, 2014. A physical examination undertaken on that date did not reveal any bruising to Brian’s spleen. As such, Dr. Csanadi cleared Brian to return to work, subject to instructions to remain sedentary and to immediately seek medical treatment in the event he experienced any pain or bruising. Brian returned to work on March 20, 2014, as a constructive foreman at a dam site. By the evening of March 23rd, three days later, Brian had already developed bruising on his chest and complained of pain. Despite having been advised by Dr. Csanadi that he should seek immediate medical assistance if any bruising or pain arose, Brian did not seek any assistance. He awoke the next morning feeling unwell and was transported to a local hospital, where he died within hours of arrival. The autopsy concluded that Brian had died as a result of blood loss arising from the rupture of a subscapular hematoma in his spleen.

Both the trial judge and the Court of Appeal was satisfied that neither doctor had fallen below the expected standard of care in their treatment of Brian, in that each doctor had had Brian undergo necessary and appropriate tests and treatments, and that the results of such measures had not indicated any issues with Brian’s spleen. Moreover, each doctor had drawn reasonable conclusions based on the results of the tests and treatments implemented and provided Brian with appropriate commensurate advice (i.e., allowing Brian to return to work was appropriate in the circumstances, given that he demonstrated no sign of issues with his spleen or any ongoing bleeding from anywhere and appeared to be recovering well from his fall). As such, Brian did not die as a result of medical malpractice.

Contact Ottawa Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Tierney Stauffer for Your Medical Malpractice Claim

If you have a medical malpractice claim related to a misdiagnosis or mistreatment, the lawyers at Tierney Stauffer LLP have the skills and experience necessary to guide you expertly through your claim. Tierney Stauffer LLP offers clients comprehensive advice and legal services in downtown Ottawa and throughout Ontario. Contact Tierney Stauffer LLP online or via telephone at 1-888-799-8057 to schedule a confidential consultation. 


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