HARTFORD, Conn. (Legal Newsline) – The Connecticut Supreme Court on April 11 affirmed a lower appellate court’s ruling that a patient’s amended claim that a doctor botched a spinal surgery through improper use of a surgical instrument related back to a previous claim alleging negligent use of a different instrument.

The high court’s ruling clarified the “relation back” doctrine, which means an amended pleading may relate back to the time when the original pleading was filed, as it applies to medical malpractice cases. 

The initial complaint filed by patient Donald Briere accused Dr. David Kruger and his practice, Greater Hartford Orthopedic Group PC, of medical malpractice after a spinal surgery left him permanently weak in all four limbs. In the initial complaint, the plaintiff alleged Kruger caused the injury with the improper use of a skull clamp.

After an eyewitness testified that the alleged injury was the result of the improper use of a retractor blade, the plaintiff sought to amend the claim. The lower court found that the amended claim arose out of the same original negligence claim, which was upheld by the Supreme Court.

The justices determined that the amended negligence claim must fall within the scope of the original cause of action, or the event underpinning the plaintiff’s legal claim. It is up to the trial court to make a case-by-case determination regarding what makes up the original cause of action.

“In making such a determination, the trial court must not view the allegations so narrowly that any amendment changing or enhancing the original allegations would be deemed to constitute a different cause of action,” the high court wrote in a 12-page opinion. 

“But the trial court also must not generalize so far from the specific allegations that the cause of action ceases to pertain to a specific transaction or occurrence between the parties that was identified in the original complaint.”

When the defense filed a motion to limit proceedings to the original claim that the injury was caused by a skull camp instead of a retractor blade, the justices determined that the original cause of action is a claim that Kruger negligently performed spinal surgery on Briere through the use of medical instruments solely controlled by the doctor.

“The retractor blade allegations do not contradict the theory that Kruger improperly used medical instruments during surgery,” the court said. “Instead, they constitute a change in and addition to an act of negligence, which is permitted under the relation back doctrine.”

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