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Alston v. Westside Family Health Care, Inc.

Superior Court of Delaware

October 14, 2019

TRAVIS J. ALSTON, Plaintiff,
v.
WESTSIDE FAMILY HEALTH CARE, INC, CHRISTIANA CARE HEALTH SYSTEM, INC, and DOCTORS FOR EMERGENCY SERVICES, INC. Defendants.

          Submitted: August 23, 2019

         Upon Review of the Affidavit of Merit - Rejected

          Bruce L. Hudson, Esquire

          John D. Balaguer, Esquire

          Roopa Sabesan, Esquire

          ORDER

          Abigali M. LeGrow Judge

         On August 23, 2019, Defendant Christiana Care Health System, Inc. filed a motion asking the Court to review Plaintiffs affidavit of merit, in camera, to determine whether it complies with 18 Del. C. §§ 6853(a)(1) and (c).[1]

         Specifically, Defendant asked the Court to determine that (1) the affidavit is signed by an expert witness; (2) the affidavit is accompanied by each expert's curriculum vitae; (3) "the affidavit includes an opinion that the standard of care was breached by Christiana Care Health System, Inc., and/or its employees, rather than vague references or lumping of parties with different specialties that do not conform to the statute"; (4) the affiant opines that any breach attributed to the moving Defendant and/or its employees was a proximate cause of injuries alleged in the Complaint; (5) the affidavit or attached curriculum vitae demonstrates the expert was licensed to practice medicine as of the date of the Affidavit; and (6) "the affidavit or attached curriculum vitae establishes that the expert for the three years preceding the allegedly negligent act has been engaged in the treatment of patients and/or in the teaching/academic side of medicine in the same or similar field of medicine as the care at issue in this case, namely Emergency Medicine."[2]

         In Delaware, a healthcare negligence lawsuit must be filed with an affidavit of merit, signed by an expert, and accompanied by the expert's current curriculum vitae.[3] The expert must be licensed to practice medicine as of the affidavit's date and engaged in the same or similar field as the defendant in the three years immediately preceding the alleged negligence.[4] The affidavit must state that reasonable grounds exist to believe the defendant was negligent in a way that proximately caused the plaintiffs injury.[5] The statute's requirements are minimal. Accordingly, an affidavit of merit tracking the statutory language complies with the statute.[6]

         Plaintiffs affiant opines that "there are reasonable grounds to believe that the applicable standard of care was breached by the medical/health care defendants named in this case, and that the breaches were a proximate cause of the injury to . . . [Mr.] Alston." By referring only to "defendants" collectively, the affiant fails to meet the standard requiring an affidavit of merit be filed "as to" each defendant.[7]The affidavit of merit does not specifically name the moving Defendant or any other defendant.

         Additionally, the expert's curriculum vitae does not clearly establish that the expert was engaged in the treatment of patients or teaching in the same or similar field as the moving Defendant in the three years immediately preceding the alleged negligence.[8]

         Because the affidavit substantially complies with the statute and the deficiencies merely may be a drafting error, [9] the Court will allow Plaintiff 30 days from this Order's date in which to file an acceptable affidavit of merit as to each defendant, if that is what the expert believes. If an affidavit as to each defendant is not perfected in time, the Court will dismiss the claims against that defendant without further notice or opportunity to be heard.

         IT ...


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