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Grant v. St. Francis Hospital, Inc.

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

February 4, 2014

WINIFRED T. GRANT, Plaintiff,
v.
ST. FRANCIS HOSPITAL, INC., a Delaware corporation, Defendant.

Submitted: January 10, 2014

Kester I.H. Crosse, Esquire, Williams & Crosse, Attorney for Plaintiff.

Dennis D. Ferri, Esquire and Courtney R. Hamilton, Esquire, Morris James LLP, Attorneys for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

William C. Carpenter, Jr. Judge

Before the Court is Defendant's Second Motion for Summary Judgment alleging that, with discovery completed, Plaintiff has failed to uncover or present any evidence of an unsafe condition on Defendant's premises or, assuming arguendo an unsafe condition can be established through Plaintiff's testimony alone, Defendant's notice of such condition. Plaintiff, recognizing the absence of direct evidence, requested that this Court consider the application of res ipsa loquitur to the facts at hand. However, as discussed more fully below, the Court finds that this is not an instance where res ipsa loquitur should apply. Therefore, as Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate through expert testimony an essential element of her claim-namely a defect in the MRI table-the Court will grant Defendant's Second Motion for Summary Judgment.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This litigation relates to an incident that occurred on May 14, 2009 where Plaintiff alleges she suffered an injury after an MRI table on which she was lying shimmied or shook causing her to fall to the floor. On May 13, 2011, Plaintiff filed the Complaint in the Court of Common Pleas. Thereafter, Defendant demanded a jury trial and, as a result, Plaintiff's complaint was moved to this Court. On September 9, 2011, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss for failure to file an affidavit of merit. Finding the failure detrimental to Plaintiff's case, on November 21, 2011, this Court dismissed all negligence claims from the complaint but allowed Plaintiff to continue to pursue her products-liability allegations.

On October 19, 2012, Defendant filed its first Motion for Summary Judgment due to Plaintiff's failure to engage in the discovery process in a timely manner, as well as a Motion for Protective Order, due to Plaintiff's dilatory discovery request. The Court entered an Order on December 18, 2012 denying the motions but ordering Plaintiff's counsel to pay Defendant for the costs and reasonable attorneys' fees associated with filing the motions and warning that "[t]he Court's gentle handling" of the discovery failures would not continue. The Court also entered a Revised Trial Scheduling Order providing in relevant part that discovery must be completed by November 8, 2013.

Discovery is now completed and Defendant has timely moved for summary judgment. In investigating the products-liability claims, Plaintiff took the deposition of Lori Culnane, the MRI Supervisor who was working when Plaintiff fell off the table. During the deposition, Ms. Culnane revealed that she inspected the MRI machine at issue each morning by turning on the machine and running a scan with a "phantom." Ms. Culnane further stated that the MRI machine was inspected every three months as part of a "preventative maintenance plan rotation." Ms. Culnane testified that through all of these tests and her extensive experience with MRI machines, she never had an experience where the table of an MRI shimmied or shook. Further, Defendant provided records to Plaintiff showing that from the day prior to and several days after Plaintiff's fall, there were no issues with the machine. Plaintiff failed to uncover or disclose any information supporting Plaintiff's claim of the table shaking or shimmying nor did Plaintiff uncover any information of Defendant's knowledge that the MRI was unsafe or defective. In addition, Plaintiff has failed to designate an expert who would testify as to the deficiency in this particular table of which Defendant should have been aware.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

This is not an everyday motion for summary judgment where the Court is charged with determining whether there are any issues of material fact which preclude judgment for the moving party as a matter of law. Instead, this is a case where "[t]he moving party is 'entitled to judgment as a matter of law' because the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof."[1]

[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be "no genuine issue as to any material fact, " since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.[2]

DISCUSSION

Defendant argues that Plaintiff has failed to uncover or present evidence of an essential element of Plaintiff's claims; namely, that there was a defect in the MRI table. In response, Plaintiff argues that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur should apply, thus allowing Plaintiff to use the injury and Plaintiff's testimony to infer a defect. In spite of the Court's caution at the hearing on Defendant's first Motion for Summary Judgment and the Court providing additional time for Plaintiff to find and disclose an expert, Plaintiff has not produced an expert to testify that the MRI machine was defective. Counsel for Plaintiff has been candid with ...


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