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Horvitz & Levy LLP successfully represented defendants Christianne N. Heck, M.D., and the University of Southern California (USC) on appeal from a judgment in a medical malpractice/personal injury case.

Dr. Heck, a neurologist at USC, provided a written evaluation to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), clearing one of her epilepsy patients to resume driving. Following an administrative hearing, the DMV, relying on Dr. Heck’s evaluation, reinstated the patient’s license. Shortly thereafter, the patient failed to take his epilepsy medication properly, suffered a seizure while driving, and struck plaintiffs Cang Wang and Xiaofen Wang, severely injuring them. Plaintiffs claimed that Dr. Heck had negligently treated her patient and negligently cleared him to resume driving. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants, finding that Dr. Heck (and USC, as her employer) were immune from suit based on the litigation privilege (Civil Code section 47, subdivision (b).)

On appeal, plaintiffs conceded that the litigation privilege immunized Dr. Heck from any suit based on her written submission to the DMV. Instead, plaintiffs argued that Dr. Heck’s treatment and care of her patient, which included her allegedly negligent failing to warn her patient not to drive, was independent of her submission, and, therefore, not protected by the litigation privilege. Dr. Heck and USC asserted that Heck’s treatment and care of her patient were inextricably intertwined with the evaluation she submitted to the DMV; therefore, because the only conduct that could have caused harm to plaintiffs was Dr. Heck’s written evaluation, the litigation privilege protected Dr. Heck’s care of her patient just as much as it protected the written evaluation based on that care.

In a published opinion, the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Four, affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Dr. Heck and USC. The court agreed with Dr. Heck and USC that the litigation privilege immunized Dr. Heck from suit because “Heck’s noncommunicative conduct prior to completing the DMV evaluation form . . . was necessarily related to the form itself” and plaintiffs “have not demonstrated that there was any wrongful act independent of Heck’s completion of the DMV evaluation form.”

If you would like further information about this case, please contact S. Thomas Todd.