Just six months ago an appellate court upheld a $2,500,000 jury verdict in favor of Susan Midler, a woman in her 60’s, against her rheumatologist, Richard Crane, M.D., to whom she’d been referred for joint pain. She was later diagnosed with lupus and won her lawsuit against the doctor based on a jury’s finding that he had not properly monitored her over the years.

This week, though, in Midler v. Crane, the decision of the intermediate appellate court was reversed by New York’s Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court) and the case sent back for a new trial because of impermissible inconsistencies in the jury’s findings.

Court of Appeals Hall, originally known as State Hall, was completed in 1842. It’s on Eagle Street in Albany, New York:

We discussed the intermediate appeals court finding, here. Readers will recall that the defendant had diagnosed the plaintiff with degenerative arthritis, ruling out kidney disease based, among other factors, on a normal urinalysis (one of the important tests for lupus).

Ms. Midler thereafter treated with an endocrinologist Joel Curtis, M.D. who conducted a urinalysis with an abnormal result. Dr. Curtis claimed he sent the results to Dr. Crane but he denied receipt.

Two and a half or so years after Dr. Crane first treated Ms. Midler, she was hospitalized for kidney failure, underwent dialysis and six months later a kidney transplant. She had lupus.

Dialysis machines filter blood and rid the body of harmful wastes, extra salt and water. Patients often need to sit for three hours or more 3-4 times a week.

The jury made several specific findings, the inconsistencies of which resulted in this week’s reversal of the verdict and the mandate for a new trial:

  • Dr. Crane was negligent in the manner in which he monitored the plaintiff, including not performing further urinalysis tests after her initial visit with him when that test was normal – and his negligence was a substantial factor in causing her injuries.
  • Dr. Crane was not negligent for failing to diagnose the lupus.
  • Dr. Curtis was negligent in not ensuring that the results of the urinalysis test he performed reached Dr. Crane – but his negligence was not a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s injuries.

In the new ruling, all seven of the judges on the Court of Appeals agreed with Dr. Crane – the verdict was impermissibly inconsistent in finding that his failure to monitor Ms. Midler was a substantial factor in causing her injury while at the same time also finding that the negligence of Dr. Curtis in failing to transmit his urinalysis results was not. Therefore, a new trial was ordered.