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Bulmer v. Unitypoint Health

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 15, 2019

GABRIELLE BULMER and THOMAS BULMER, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
UNITYPOINT HEALTH, a/k/a UNITYPOINT HEALTH-DES MOINES, a/k/a IOWA HEALTH SYSTEM, a/k/a CENTRAL IOWA HEALTH SYSTEM, a/k/a CENTRAL IOWA HOSPITAL CORPORATION, UPH IOWA LUTHERAN HOSPITAL; DES MOINES ORTHOPAEDIC SURGEONS, P.C.; WESLEY SMIDT; and UNIDENTIFIED JOHN DOES, Defendants-Appellees.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, David Porter, Judge.

         Plaintiffs in a medical malpractice action appeal the grant of summary judgment for the defendant providers.

          Mark A. Critelli of Critelli Law Firm P.C., Urbandale, for appellants.

          Jack Hilmes and Aaron J. Redinbaugh of Finley Law Firm, PC, Des Moines, for appellees.

          Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Tabor and Bower, JJ

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         Gabrielle and Thomas Bulmer appeal the district court's grant of summary judgment on their medical malpractice action in favor of various medical professionals and health-care entities.[1] Specifically, they claim the court abused its discretion in denying their request for more time to designate expert witnesses. Because the Bulmers did not show good cause for an extension, we affirm.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Gabrielle underwent a left hip replacement on November 7, 2014. She alleges following the surgery, she suffered paralysis on her left side and "left foot drop" due to sciatic nerve damage. Aiming to recover damages resulting from those conditions, Gabrielle and her husband, Thomas, filed this malpractice suit on November 4, 2016-three days before the statute-of-limitations deadline.[2] The defendants filed an answer on February 27, 2017. Accordingly, the Bulmers had until August 26, 2017, to designate an expert witness. See Iowa Code § 668.11(1)(a) (2016) (setting 180-day deadline from answer for designating expert witnesses).

         While preparing her case, Gabrielle started a nerve-stimulation procedure "to determine where the issue occurred with the surgery resulting in the paralysis of the left lower extremity." But Gabrielle was diagnosed with blood clots, which prevented her from completing the procedure to identify "where the nick, tear, cut, or whatever of the sciatic nerve occurred." Due to Gabrielle's nickel allergy, the blood clots could not be removed using a stent and no plan was finalized to treat the clots so that Gabrielle could complete the nerve-stimulation process to determine causation.

         In light of this uncertainty, on August 24, 2017, the Bulmers moved for an extension of time to disclose their expert witnesses. The defendants resisted the motion. At a September 20 hearing, the Bulmers claimed good cause existed for the extension because they were unable to "do the proper analysis to find out where this [injury] occurred" because of Gabrielle's blood clots and nickel allergy. Defense counsel argued the Bulmers could not show good cause because they had failed to even designate a standard-of-care expert, which could have been done without any further testing. The defense also noted the Bulmers did not disclose to the court the identity of any experts with whom they were working to finalize the opinion they sought on damage to her sciatic nerve.

         The court concluded the Bulmers did not show good cause and summarily denied their motion to extend the disclosure deadline. After that ruling, the defendants sought summary judgment because the Bulmers had no expert testimony to establish a prima facie case of medical malpractice. In their resistance, the Bulmers noted their disagreement with the court's rejection of their motion to extend but acknowledged summary judgment was appropriate due to their lack of designated experts. The court granted the defense motion for summary judgment, and the Bulmers now appeal.

         II. Scope and Standards of Review

         We review rulings regarding pretrial deadlines for an abuse of discretion. Hantsbarger v. Coffin, 501 N.W.2d 501, 506 (Iowa 1993). "A trial court has broad discretion in ruling on such matters, and the exercise of that discretion will ordinarily not be disturbed unless it was exercised on clearly untenable grounds or to an extent clearly unreasonable." Donovan v. State, 445 N.W.2d 763, 766 (Iowa 1989). We review summary judgment rulings for legal error. Seneca Waste Sols. Inc. v. Sheafer Mfg., 791 N.W.2d 407, 410-11 (Iowa 2010). We view ...


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