KRISTY WILCOX et al. v. DANIEL S. SCHWARTZ et al., SC 18607

Judicial District of New Haven


     Torts; Medical Malpractice; Whether Opinion Letter Complied with "Detailed Basis" Requirement of General Statutes § 52-190a (a).  The plaintiffs brought this medical malpractice action seeking damages for injuries allegedly sustained as a result of a surgical procedure on plaintiff Kristy Wilcox for treatment of gall bladder disease.  In accordance with General Statutes § 52-190a (a), the plaintiffs attached an opinion letter to their complaint.  Section 52-190a (a) requires a plaintiff in a medical malpractice action "to obtain a written and signed opinion of a similar health care provider . . . that there appears to be evidence of medical negligence and includes a detailed basis for the formation of such opinion. . . ."  The plaintiffs' opinion letter stated the authoring physician's conclusion that "to a reasonable degree of medical probability," there were "deviations from the applicable standards of care" by the defendant physician and that the care and treatment provided to plaintiff Kristy Wilcox "was not provided in a manner consistent with the standards of care that existed among general surgeons at the time of the alleged incident."  The opinion letter also stated: "Specifically, Daniel S. Schwartz, M.D. failed to prevent injury to Kristy Wilcox's biliary structures during laparoscopic [gallbladder] surgery and failed to accurately document the surgical procedure of March 12, 2006."  The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the opinion letter was insufficiently detailed to satisfy § 52-190a (a), in that the authoring physician simply provided a conclusory statement of negligence and failed to provide an opinion as to how the defendants deviated from the standard of care.  The trial court agreed with the defendants and granted the motion to dismiss.  On appeal, the Appellate Court (119 Conn. App. 808) reversed the judgment.  The court ruled that in order to fulfill the "detailed basis" requirement of § 52-190a (a), an opinion letter must indicate that there appears to be evidence of a breach of the standard of care but need not address the issue of causation.  In addition, it stated that the opinion letter's detail need not be as exhaustive as the opinion of a trial expert on medical negligence disclosed prior to trial.  The court further provided that because the ultimate purpose of the statutory requirement is to show the existence of a plaintiff's good faith in bringing the complaint, an opinion letter is sufficiently detailed so long as it adequately addresses the allegations of negligence pleaded in the complaint.  The Appellate Court then concluded that the opinion letter at issue was sufficiently detailed to satisfy the requirements of § 52-190a (a), as it sufficed to notify the reader that a similar health care provider was of the opinion that the medical negligence in the case consisted of a failure to protect Wilcox's bile ducts from injury during surgery.  The defendants challenge the decision in this appeal to the Supreme Court.