MORISCH v. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (July 29, 2011)

Gerald Morisch visited the emergency room at the VA Medical Center in Marion, Illinois, complaining of jaw and neck pain. He was referred to a dentist. A few days later, he had an appointment with his primary care physician at the Medical Center. He was referred to an ENT specialist. The specialist noticed a small mass of his neck. She performed a biopsy and ordered a CT scan. The radiologist that perform a CT scan recommended an ultrasound follow-up -- but no one told Morisch. About a month later, Morisch suffered a stroke. He brought a medical malpractice claim against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Morisch and his wife both testified that she called the St. Louis VA Hospital, where Morisch had the CT scan, on two occasions and reported stroke symptoms. Judge Murphy (S.D. Ill.) entered judgment in the government's favor after a four-day bench trial, concluding that he failed to establish a violation of the standard of care or any proximately caused injury. Morisch appeals.

In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Judges Williams and Tinder and District Judge Gottschall dismissed. The Court first noted that the transcript of the government expert’s testimony from the four-day trial is the only part of the trial record included in the appellate record. The Court concluded that it could not sufficiently review the record. Morisch thus forfeited his appeal. Notwithstanding that conclusion, the Court went on to conclude that the district court did not err in its finding. In order to prevail on his tort claim, Morisch had to establish the proper standard of care, a failure to comply with that standard, and a proximately caused injury. Proximate cause requires expert testimony. Here, the expert testimony was that, without the evidence of the phone call, the doctors had no reason to follow-up with Morisch after his examination. The district court did not err in concluding that the telephone call testimony should be disregarded. It was unsupported by phone records and inconsistent with other testimony and logic. Morisch’s stroke was therefore not the foreseeable result of any conduct on the part of the VA Hospital.