Virginia Medical Malpractice: VSC Superseding Intervening Cause – a Lawyer’s Instruction

Virginia Medical Malpractice: VSC Superseding Intervening Cause – a Lawyer’s Instruction

On June 6, 2008, the Virginia Supreme Court addressed the superseding intervening cause instruction. The medical malpractice case of wrongful death is Williams v. Le, 276 Va. 161 (2008).

In Williams, the defendant radiologist failed to communicate directly to the treating physician a positive Dopplar ultrasound, and the patient later died from pulmonary embolism. Asserting arguendo that the alleged proximate causation of any failure to communicate directly was broken completely by the treating physician’s subsequent failure to read the diagnostic report, the defendant radiologist obtained a jury instruction on superseding intervening cause.

The Virginia Supreme Court in Williams delineated for medical malpractice cases: “In order to relieve a defendant of liability for his negligent act, the negligence intervening between the defendant’s negligent act and the injury must so entirely supersede the operation of the defendant’s negligence that it alone, without any contributing negligence of the defendant in the slightest degree, causes the injury.” Id. at 167. But an “intervening cause does not operate to exempt a defendant from liability if that cause is put into operation by the defendant’s wrongful act or omission.” Id.

“On this record,” observed the Virginia Supreme Court in Williams, “it cannot be said that Dr. Le’s alleged negligence was not contributing ‘in the slightest degree’ to the death of Williams. The trial court therefore erred in granting the superseding intervening causation instruction.” Id. at167-168 (reversing and remanding defense verdict).