Suits against labs sound in ordinary negligence rather than medical malpractice

By Alex Stein

Last week, the Supreme Court of Rhode Island decided that suit against a lab for failure to identify illness or genetic disorder sounds in ordinary negligence and not in medical malpractice.  Ho–Rath v. Rhode Island Hospital, — A.3d —-, 2014 WL 1765421 (R.I. 2014). The “ordinary negligence” sound is music to the plaintiffs’ ears: it exempts them from statutory caps on damages, from the restrictive limitations and repose provisions, from demanding requirements for expert testimony, and from other procedural burdens. See here.

This ruling was based on Rhode Island’s statutory definition of healthcare provider. The Court held that this definition excludes labs because they do not treat patients and have a separate licensing system. In the case at hand, the Court’s ruling enabled the plaintiffs to toll the statute of limitations by invoking the broad undiscoverability exception not available in suits for medical malpractice.

Doctrinally, this precedent exposes labs to an increased prospect of tort liability, but I doubt that it will affect lab prices. The lab industry follows established protocols that minimize errors. Compliance with those protocols indicates adequate care that virtually guarantees the lab an immunity against suit. Also: the vast majority of lab errors result from mistakes made by clinicians and hospital administration. See here.

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About Alex Stein

Alex Stein is a Professor of Law at Cardozo Law School. As of 2016/17, he will be a Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School. Before joining Cardozo in 2004, he served for more than a decade at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law. Alex also held visiting professorial appointments at Columbia, Miami, and Yale Law Schools. In Fall 2016, he will be visiting Harvard Law School. His teaching responsibilities at Harvard will include Torts and a seminar on Medical Malpractice. Alex's specialty areas include Torts, Medical Malpractice, Evidence, as well as general legal theory and economic analysis of law. He authors three books, An Analytical Approach to Evidence (with Ronald J. Allen et al.) (6th ed. 2016); Foundations of Evidence Law (2005) and Tort Liability under Uncertainty (2001, with Ariel Porat), and over sixty articles of which many have appeared in leading journals. Alex was one of the founding editors of Theoretical Inquiries in Law and is on the editorial board of the International Journal of Evidence & Proof. In 2013, he launched an e-journal STEIN on Medical Malpractice, http://www.steinmedicalmalpractice.com, that covers all significant developments in medical malpractice laws across the United States. He graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and earned a Ph.D. from the University of London.