Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fifth Division
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Marion County Honorable Rachel L. Bringer Shepherd
Lisa S. Van Amburg, Judge
Plaintiffs Ruth Mickels, Joseph Mickels, Jr., Brittany Mickels, and Jennifer Unglesbee appeal the Circuit Court of Marion County's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant Dr. Raman Danrad. The plaintiffs allege that Dr. Danrad's negligent failure to diagnose a terminal brain tumor in Joseph Mickels, Sr. ("Mr. Mickels"), caused his wrongful death. On appeal, the plaintiffs argue that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of Dr. Danrad, because the summary judgment record shows that Mr. Mickels would have lived approximately six months longer if Dr. Danrad had timely diagnosed his tumor. We affirm the trial court's judgment.
Viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiffs, the following facts led to the instant suit. On December 8, 2008, Mr. Mickels visited the Hannibal Clinic in Hannibal, Missouri, complaining of numbness and tingling in his left arm and leg, blurred vision, and headaches. A neurologic evaluation was conducted, including an MRI study of Mr. Mickels's brain. On December 12, 2008, radiologist Dr. Raman Danrad reviewed the results of the MRI study. He did not diagnose a tumor.
On February 17, 2009, approximately two months after the initial MRI study, Mr. Mickels arrived at Hannibal Regional Hospital suffering from an altered mental status. A CT study of Mr. Mickels's brain was conducted and Dr. Danrad reviewed the results. Dr. Danrad diagnosed Mr. Mickels with a terminal brain tumor. Despite immediate surgery and various other treatments, Mr. Mickels passed away on June 12, 2009, less than four months after the tumor was diagnosed. Mr. Mickels's treating oncologist, Dr. Carl Freter, later explained about the tumor:
[It] was incurable when it was found and it would have been incurable at the time . . . [of] the original [MRI study] . . . . [However] it is more likely than not that if [the tumor] had been discovered earlier . . . [Mr. Mickels] would have lived an additional six months on average.
On June 7, 2012, the plaintiffs brought the instant wrongful death claim against Dr. Danrad. In response, Dr. Danrad moved for summary judgment. After a hearing, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Dr. Danrad. This appeal follows.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Our review of summary judgment is de novo. Manner v. Schiermeier, 393 S.W.3d 58, 61-62 (Mo. banc 2013). "The criteria on appeal for testing the propriety of summary judgment are no different from those which should be employed by the trial court to determine the propriety of sustaining the motion initially." ITT Commercial Fin. Corp. v. Mid-Am. Marine Supply Corp., 854 S.W.2d 371, 376 (Mo. banc 1993). We "review the record in a light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was entered, without deference to the trial court's findings, and accord the non-movant 'the benefit of all reasonable inferences from the record.'" Manner, 393 S.W.3d at 61-62 (quoting ITT Commercial Fin. Corp., 854 S.W.2d at 376). "Summary judgment is appropriate where the moving party has demonstrated, on the basis of facts as to which there is no genuine dispute, a right to judgment as a matter of law." Daugherty v. City of Maryland Heights, 231 S.W.3d 814, 818 (Mo. banc 2007).
In their sole point on appeal, the plaintiffs argue that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of Dr. Danrad on their claim for wrongful death, because the summary judgment record shows that Mr. Mickels would have lived approximately six months longer if Dr. Danrad had timely diagnosed his terminal brain tumor. In response, Dr. Danrad contends that under Missouri law a wrongful death claim requires the plaintiffs to establish that Mr. Mickels would not have died but for Dr. Danrad's negligence, not that he may have lived a few months longer. Because it is undisputed that Mr. Mickels's tumor was terminal and would have caused his death regardless of any alleged negligence, Dr. Danrad contends that the plaintiffs' wrongful death claim fails as a matter of law.
Wrongful death in Missouri is a statutory action governed by section 537.080.1, R.S.Mo. (2000). ...