Lithium Malpractice Case Slated for Retrial

     (CN) – Malpractice claims over a nearly fatal lithium-induced heart attack must face a new trial because of illegal testimony about a nurse practitioner, the 9th Circuit ruled Monday.
     Alaska resident Madlyn Liebsack had a heart attack in 2002 that left her in a permanent vegetative state. The heart attack was caused by high levels of lithium, which she took to treat a “schizoaffective disorder.”
     Lieback’s guardians filed a federal medical malpractice action accusing the government-funded Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center and others of negligence. They said that, prior to her heart attack, Liebsack had shown symptoms of dangerous lithium levels, but that her assisted-living facility, her prescribing nurse practitioner, and a doctor at the federal health clinic had all failed to follow up.
     After a bench trial, U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline found nurse practitioner Cindy Jones 80 percent at fault for Lieback’s state, and found the federal doctor 15 percent at fault. Liebsack’s nursing home was 5 percent responsible, the judge said. Liebsack was awarded 15 percent of her medical expenses from the government, leading to cross-appeals from both parties.
     A unanimous three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit reversed Monday and ordered a new trial, finding that the expert testimony against Jones had been improperly admitted.
     The panel found that “none of the government’s evidence regarding the nurse practitioner’s negligence complied with § 09.20.185,” Alaska’s expert-witness statute requiring “specialized expert testimony in medical malpractice actions.”

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