Marie Huddleston sued St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, IHA of Ann Arbor, P.C. d/b/a Associates in Internal Medicine - Cherry Hill and Dr. Joyce Leon, claiming that the defendants delayed in diagnosing her kidney cancer; as a result, Huddleston’s entire left kidney had to be removed, as opposed to a partial nephrectomy. It is undisputed that the results of a 2003 CT scan – which revealed a lesion on Huddleston’s left kidney – were not reported to her until 2008, when a second scan revealed a much larger, cancerous lesion on the kidney.
Leon and IHA moved to dismiss the case, contending that Huddleston had suffered no injury as a result of the five-year delay in diagnosing and treating her kidney cancer, because she still had a remaining kidney that functioned normally. The hospital concurred in that motion for summary disposition and also argued that Huddleston did not provide sufficient expert testimony to establish a breach in the applicable standard of care by the hospital. The trial court ruled in the defendants’ favor, dismissing Huddleston’s claims.
Huddleston appealed, and in a 2-1 unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeals reversed in part, reinstating Huddleston’s claims against the IHA and Leon while affirming the dismissal of the case against the hospital.
“On appeal, Huddleston first argues that the trial court committed reversible error when it granted summary disposition in favor of Leon, IHA and the Hospital on the basis that Huddleston did not suffer a ‘compensable injury.’ We agree.”
The majority looked to the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision in Sutter v Biggs, 377 Mich 80 (1966). In Sutter, a woman discovered, after undergoing surgery for the removal of a fallopian tube, that her other fallopian tube and ovary had been removed years earlier when she was a child, without her or her parents’ knowledge and consent. The Supreme Court ruled that the woman could not recover damages for her inability to have children, concluding that that result was too far removed from the first fallopian tube removal. But, the Court said, the woman could recover damages for the loss of her “reserve” fallopian tube.
The Court of Appeal majority said, “We find the reasoning in Sutter sound. Nature has provided the human body with two kidneys and simply because the body can survive and adapt without one does not negate a doctor’s responsibility to timely diagnose disease concerned with one of the pair. The human body also has two lungs, two eyes, two ears and other sets of organs which, it could be argued, are not required to perform in pairs to serve their intended purposes. We are highly concerned, however, with the potential implications in giving a ‘pass’ to malpractice that occurs in the case of one of a pair of duplicate organs …Where, as here, the failure to diagnose led to the removal of an entire reserve organ when a timely diagnosis would have left at least 80% of the organ intact and fully functioning, there is a question of fact as to whether plaintiff has suffered any damages due to the loss of the organ. Summary disposition was thus improper.”
The dissenting judge, while agreeing with the majority’s decision to dismiss claims against the hospital, argued that Huddleston had not suffered a “compensable injury.” Huddleston’s own urology expert’s testimony “establishes that Huddleston’s damages are speculative, and thus she is not entitled to recovery,” the judge said. Any restrictions on Huddleston, such as avoiding a high protein diet and not participating in extreme sports, are “not significant” compared to those that would be placed on a patient who had a partial nephrectomy, the dissent maintained.
“Additionally, there is no evidence of any ailments that Huddleston is unable to treat because she only has one kidney. Moreover, while Huddleston testified that one of her concerns is being unable to be a kidney donor if needed for one of her children, [her expert witness] explained that regardless of whether Huddleston had a partial or a total nephrectomy, she would be prohibited from kidney donation because of her history of cancer. The evidence supports that after the total nephrectomy, Huddleston was cancer free and her remaining kidney was functioning within normal limits.”
IHA and Leon appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court. In an order dated April 3, 2013, the Supreme Court ordered the case to be scheduled for oral argument on whether to grant the application or take other action. The Court directed the parties to address “whether the Court of Appeals erred when it concluded that the plaintiff suffered a compensable injury; whether it misapplied Sutter v Biggs, 377 Mich 80 (1966); and whether its decision is contrary to Henry v Dow Chemical Co, 473 Mich 63 (2005).”