Lawsuit against Singing River Health, former neurologist heading back to Jackson County court after recent decision

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Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 9:44 PM CDT
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JACKSON COUNTY, Miss. (WLOX) - A case related to a former Singing River Health System neurologist and one of his former patients will be heading back to Jackson County Circuit Court after a recent Court of Appeals decision.

Wanda St. Andrie, a former patient of Dr. Terrence Millette, filed a medical malpractice lawsuit in 2018 against the neurologist and Singing River Health System. Hers is one of approximately 20 similar lawsuits filed against Millette and Singing River.

In the suit, St. Andrie alleges that Millette misdiagnosed her with multiple sclerosis and that Singing River was vicariously liable for Millette’s negligence.

In 2020, St. Andrie filed an amended complaint that added an independent negligence claim against Singing River.

The new claim alleges that Singing River had “actual or constructive knowledge” of Millette’s negligence for many years but failed to protect or notify his patients.

Singing River filed a motion arguing that it was barred by the one-year statute of limitations, and the circuit court dismissed St. Andrie’s independent negligence claim.

According to court documents, Millette diagnosed St. Andrie with MS in 2005. In 2011, Millette became an employee of Singing River.

In November 2016, Singing River sent a letter to all of Millette’s patients that stated in part: “Recently, some questions were raised about how Dr. Millette diagnoses and treats patients with [MS}. As a result, we immediately began a review of Dr. Millette’s medical activity. During the course of this ongoing review, the decision was made that Dr. Millette would no longer base his practice at [Singing River]. We recognize that competent medical professionals often have differing opinions, especially when it involves complex neurological conditions. Given the questions that have been raised about Dr. Millette’s medical practices, we would like to work with you to obtain a re-evaluation of your diagnosis and treatment plan with another doctor.”

After that, Singing River arranged for St. Andrie to see another neurologist, Dr. Laura Minto, who told St. Andrie in January of 2017 that she never had MS.

St. Andrie’s 2020 amended filing came after a similar case was settled in Jackson County Circuit Court. Judge James Bell ruled that Christine Tingle, a former patient of Millette, would be awarded $499,000 after Millette misdiagnosed and continued to treat her.

St. Andrie argued that she discovered Singing River’s independent negligence after her attorney attended the Tingle v. SRHS trial. She also argued that the evidence presented during the Tingle trial revealed that Singing River had possessed actual or constructive knowledge of Millette’s negligence for many years but failed to notify his patients. Specifically, she alleged that Singing River “had actual or constructive knowledge of Dr. Millette’s pattern of repeated misdiagnosis of patients with [MS] . . . for many years.”

While the circuit court originally denied her motion for an amended complaint, because St. Andrie’s proposed amendment involved “the same conduct, transaction or occurrence” as her original complaint, the Court of Appeals concluded that the proposed amended complaint “relates back” to the date of the original complaint.

The Court of Appeals also reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In 2005, Millette diagnosed St. Andrie with MS.

In 2011, Millette became an employee of SRHS.

In November 2016, SRHS sent a letter to all of Millette’s patients that stated in part: “Recently, some questions were raised about how Dr. Millette diagnoses and treats patients with [MS}. As a result, we immediately began a review of Dr. Millette’s medical activity. During the course of this ongoing review, the decision was made that Dr. Millette would no longer base his practice at [SRHS]. We recognize that competent medical professionals often have differing opinions, especially when it involves complex neurological conditions. Given the questions that have been raised about Fr. Millette’s medical practices, we would like to work with you to obtain a re-evaluation of your diagnosis and treatment plan with another doctor.”

Thereafter, SRHS arranged for St. Andrie to see another neurologist, Dr. Laura Minto. In January 2017, Dr. Minto advised St. Andrie that she never had MS.

All of the cases were assigned to a single judge, and the judge entered a common discovery order that, among other things, permitted counsel for all plaintiffs to participate in any depositions of SRHS executives and administrators.

In July 2020, St. Andrie filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint. St. Andrie’s original complaint asserted only a vicarious liability claim against SRHS based on Millette’s negligence, but her proposed amended complaint asserted an “independent negligence” claim against SRHS, alleging that it breached its “duty to exercise reasonable care to safeguard [her] from known or reasonably apprehensible danger,” namely, Millette’s pattern of repeatedly misdiagnosing patients with MS.

In a subsequent motion for summary judgment, SRHS argued that the one-year statute of limitations barred St. Andrie’s new “independent negligence” claim.

In response, St. Andrie argued her new claim was timely because she filed her amended complaint within one year of the date on which she discovered or by reasonable diligence should have discovered SRHS’s independent negligence.

St. Andrie argued that she could not have discovered SRHS’s independent negligence until her attorney attended the trial in a related case Tingle v. SRHS in the Jackson County Circuit Court. She also argued that the evidence presented during the Tingle trial revealed that SRHS had possessed actual or constructive knowledge of Millette’s negligence for many years but failed to notify his patients.

The circuit court granted SRHS’s motion for summary judgement and directed the entry of a final judgment dismissing that claim.

St. Andrie then filed a motion for reconsideration, which the circuit court denied.

The court reasoned that St. Andrie’s independent negligence claim did not relate back to the date of her original complaint because “the new claim has legal and proof requirements separate and apart from the original complaint.” The court also concluded that St. Andrie should have discovered her new claim prior to the Tingle trail. The court explained that the evidence presented during the Tingle Trial was “developed in common discovery,” and St. Andrie was “permitted to participate in common discovery.” The court reasoned that St. Andrie should have discovered the basis for her claim during common discovery, but “St. Andrie’s counsel chose not to participate in common discovery.” St. Andrie then filed a notice of appeal.

St. Andrie makes two arguments as to why her independent negligence claim is not barred by the statue of limitations. First, she argues that her claim related back to the date of her original complaint. Second, she argues that she did not discover, and could not have discovered with reasonable diligence, SRHS’s independent negligence until her attorney attended the Tingle trial. The appeals court concluded that St. Andrie’s independent negligence claim is not barred by the statue of limitations because it related back to the date of her original complaint.

St. Andrie alleged that SRHS was liable for Millette’s negligence because Millette was an employee of SRHS acting within the course and scope of his employment. In her amended complaint, St. Andrie alleged that SRHS also was liable due to its own “independent negligence.” Specifically, she alleged that SRHS “had actual or constructive knowledge of Dr. Millette’s pattern of repeated misdiagnosis of patients with [MS] . . . for many years.”

St. Andrie’s proposed amendment involved the same conduct, transaction or occurrence as her original complaint. St. Andrie sought only to add a claim that - during the same time period - SRHS had actual or constructive knowledge of Millette’s negligence but failed to timely notify St. Andrie.

Accordingly, the court of appeals concluded that the proposed amended complaint “relates back” to the date of the original complaint.

In this case, SRHS’s alleged failure to protect St. Andrie from Millett’s negligence “arose out of the [same] conduct, transaction or occurrence” as Millette’s negligence.

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