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Bevan v. Valencia

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

October 24, 2017

AIMEE BEVAN, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Desiree Gonzales, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
GABRIEL VALENCIA, Youth Development Administrator, Individually, MATTHEW EDMUNDS, Corrections Officer, Individually, JOHN ORTEGA, Corrections Officer, Individually, MOLLY ARCHULETA, Corrections Nurse, Individually, ST. VINCENT HOSPITAL, and NATHAN PAUL UNKEFER, M.D., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         This matter comes before the Court upon St. Vincent Hospital's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support (Motion for Summary Judgment), filed February 12, 2016. (Doc. 132). Plaintiff filed a response on March 8, 2016, and Defendant St. Vincent Hospital (Hospital) filed a reply on March 25, 2016. (Docs. 142 and 151). Having considered the Motion for Summary Judgment, the accompanying briefing, and relevant evidence, the Court grants the Motion for Summary Judgment.

         A. Background

         This case involves, in part, whether the Hospital was negligent on May 7, 2014, in prematurely discharging Desiree Gonzales after Defendant Dr. Nathan Paul Unkefer treated her for a heroin overdose with both naloxone and Ativan.[1] Upon discharge from the Hospital and having been medically cleared by Dr. Unkefer for incarceration, police took Gonzales from the Hospital to the Santa Fe Youth Development Program (YDP) for incarceration. It is undisputed that no nurse was present at the YDP that night and that several hours later Gonzales stopped breathing. It is also undisputed that when Gonzales stopped breathing and became nonresponsive non-medical YDP staff began CPR and called 911. Several hours later, Gonzales died at the Hospital. The Office of the Medical Investigator determined that the cause of death was “Toxic effects of heroin.” (Doc. 145-4) at 1.

         1. Count Four of the Complaint for Wrongful Death (Complaint) (Doc. 1)

         Plaintiff brings negligence claims against the Hospital in Count Four of the Complaint. Plaintiff clarifies in her response to the Motion for Summary Judgment that she alleges the Hospital was negligent by (1) not having a policy related to the treatment of heroin overdose patients, (2) failing to have adequate discharge instructions, and (3) not obtaining informed consent from Gonzales to administer Ativan, a drug that “can potentiate any narcotic that is still in the body.” (Doc. 142) at 9-12 (quoting (Doc. 142-4) at 2, depo. at 78). Plaintiff also seeks punitive damages against the Hospital.

         The Hospital moves for summary judgment only on Plaintiff's direct negligence claims, including the claim for punitive damages. The Hospital does not move for summary judgment on any vicarious liability claims. Plaintiff opposes the Motion for Summary Judgment in its entirety.

         2. Facts Relevant to the Motion for Summary Judgment[2]

         a. Failure to Have a Hospital Policy on Treating Heroin Overdose Patients

In his written expert report, Dr. Robert Henry opined that the
Dr. Unkefer's and St. Vincent Hospital's care was below the standard of care when Desiree Gonzales was discharged after monitoring her condition for an inadequate amount of time given Ms. Gonzales' condition, her symptoms and the treatment provided to her in the hospital. A longer observation period was required and would have prevented her death.

(Doc. 132) at 22. Dr. Henry further opined that the

St. Vincent Hospital failed in its obligation to provide appropriate policies and procedures. According to testimony and the records that I have received, St. Vincent Hospital did not have a policy on the observation period of post-naloxone patients. Had St. Vincent had a reasonable policy, it is likely that Ms. Gonzales would have been kept in the hospital longer and her condition would have been treated before it caused her death.

Id. at 22-23.

         At his deposition, Dr. Henry clarified that he had only one opinion regarding the Hospital: the Hospital was negligent by not having a policy on the treatment of heroin overdose patients. (Doc. 132) at 27, depo. at 128-29. Dr. Henry testified that the Hospital breached “the standard of care of a reasonably well-qualified hospital” by not having such a policy. Id. at 29, depo. at 133. Dr. Henry, however, explained that it is speculation to suggest that a Hospital policy would result in keeping an heroin overdose patient in the Hospital longer because a doctor can exercise “his own independent medical judgment” to discharge the patient. Id. at 28, depo. at 130. Dr. Henry further testified that it was speculation on his part to opine that such a policy would have “likely” kept Gonzales at the Hospital ...


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