Immunity from Wrongful Death Liability: How Michels Fails to Compensate: Michels V. Danrad

By Buchanan, Kevin | Missouri Law Review, Summer 2017 | Go to article overview

Immunity from Wrongful Death Liability: How Michels Fails to Compensate: Michels V. Danrad


Buchanan, Kevin, Missouri Law Review


I. INTRODUCTION

Wrongful death statutes originated out of a need to compensate the family of a decedent "whose life was wrongfully taken." (1) Closely related to wrongful death statutes are survivorship statutes, which allow for the transmission of tort claims after the death of one or more of the parties. (2) These statutes help address the once common maxim that it's cheaper to kill a man than to maim him. (3) Today, all fifty states have both wrongful death and survivorship statutes. (4)

In Michels v. Danrad, the Supreme Court of Missouri declined to allow wrongful death claims where a defendant's negligence accelerates the death of a terminally ill decedent. (5) However, the court determined that a decedent's family may have a survivorship claim for personal injuries not resulting in death. (6) In doing so, the court perpetuated a trend that fails to accomplish the intended goal of wrongful death statutes: to compensate a decedent's family. (7)

Part II of this Note looks at the facts and holding of Michels. Part III examines the wrongful death and survivorship claims as well as the past precedent of such claims in the context of medical malpractice and improper diagnoses. Part IV then introduces the wrongful death and survivorship issues presented in Michels. Finally, Part V distinguishes Michels from precedent and argues in favor of the dissent.

II. FACTS AND HOLDING

Joseph Mickels, Sr., visited the Hannibal Clinic in Hannibal, Missouri, on December 8, 2008, "complaining of numbness and tingling in his left arm and leg, blurred vision, and headaches." (8) An MRI (9) was conducted on Mr. Mickels's brain. (10) Raman Danrad, a radiologist and the defendant in the instant case, reviewed the results of the MRI on December 12. (11) Dr. Danrad concluded that Mr. Mickels's MRI indicated no signs warranting a medical diagnosis. (12)

On February 17, 2009, Mr. Mickels went to Hannibal Regional Hospital suffering from what was only described as an "altered mental status." (13) That same day, a computed tomography ("CT") scan (14) was conducted on Mr. Mickels's brain. (15) Again, Dr. Danrad reviewed the results of this scan. (16) Based on the CT scan, Dr. Danrad diagnosed Mr. Mickels with a terminal and incurable brain tumor. (17) On June 12, 2009, Mr. Mickels died as a result of this tumor, despite having undergone immediate treatment following his diagnosis. (18)

On June 7, 2012, Ruth Mickels, Joseph Mickels, Jr., Billy Joe Mickels, Brittany Mickels, and Jennifer Unglesbee ("Appellants") filed suit against Dr. Danrad pursuant to Missouri's wrongful death statute, Missouri Revised Statutes section 537.080. (19)

Appellants alleged that, although "Mr. Mickels certainly would have died ... with or without Dr. Danrad's alleged negligence," Mr. Mickels would not have died on June 12, 2009, had Dr. Danrad properly diagnosed the brain tumor following the initial MRI on December 8, 2008. (20) Mr. Mickels's treating oncologist testified that while the tumor "was incurable when it was found and it would have been incurable at the time" of the initial MRI on December 8, 2008, it was "more likely than not that if [the tumor] had been discovered earlier... [Mr. Mickels] would have lived an additional six months on average." (21)

The trial court granted summary judgment in Dr. Danrad's favor and dismissed Appellants' petition. The court found that Appellants could not establish that Dr. Danrad's negligence caused Mr. Mickels's death in accordance with section 537.080.1. (22) Appellants appealed the trial court's judgment. (23) The appeal was transferred to the Supreme Court of Missouri under article V, section 10 of the Missouri Constitution. (24)

The Supreme Court of Missouri vacated the trial court's grant of summary judgment and remanded the case. (25) In doing so, the court held that because Dr. Danrad's failure to diagnose Mr. Mickels's incurable brain tumor was not the cause of Mr. …

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