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Summers v. Syptak

Supreme Court of Virginia

July 20, 2017

ALEXIA SUMMERS
v.
J. MICHAEL SYPTAK, ET AL.

         FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF ROCKINGHAM COUNTY Thomas J. Wilson, IV, Judge

          PRESENT: Lemons, C.J., Goodwyn, McClanahan, Powell, Kelsey, and McCullough, JJ., and Millette, S.J.

          OPINION

          STEPHEN R. McCULLOUGH JUSTICE

         Alexia Summers appeals from the dismissal with prejudice of her medical malpractice action. In her complaint, she alleged that Dr. J. Michael Syptak, a physician with Harrisonburg Family Practice Associates, P.C., knew or should have known about certain conditions afflicting her. These conditions are described in the medical records of her earlier treatment by that practice. She alleged that, while treating her, Dr. Syptak made "unsolicited, unwanted, inappropriate, and highly offensive sexual comments, 'jokes, ' and sexual innuendo" and that these statements caused her preexisting conditions to worsen. On this appeal she focuses her arguments on the contention that the circuit court erred in holding on summary judgment that a plaintiff must proffer an expert who can testify concerning what medical records a physician is required to consult under the standard of care and what statements a physician can make to a patient. Although Dr. Syptak contests the plaintiff's arguments on these points, he offers an alternative ground for affirmance: that the plaintiff's failure to designate an expert to testify concerning proximate causation of her injuries is fatal to her case. We agree with this alternative ground, and we accordingly affirm the judgment of the trial court on that basis.

         BACKGROUND

         According to the allegations in the complaint, Summers was a patient at the Harrisonburg Family Practice. Beginning in September 2010, she received treatment from Dr. Deborah A. Nio at this practice group for the psychological, emotional, and physical symptoms Summers was experiencing as a result of being the victim of "past and present sexual abuse and harassment, " including at her workplace. In November 2010, Dr. Nio wrote that Summers may suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Summers experienced suicidal and homicidal thoughts. During this time, Dr. Nio prescribed various medications for her conditions, including anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, and sleep aid medications. Her treatment there continued through August 2011.

         More than two years later, in March 2014, Summers returned to Harrisonburg Family Practice because of high blood pressure. Dr. Nio was unavailable, so she was seen by Dr. Syptak, another physician at the practice. Dr. Syptak happens to be Dr. Nio's husband. Summers alleged that, while treating her for high blood pressure over the course of several visits, Dr. Syptak "engage[d] in conduct involving unsolicited and unwanted sexual comments and innuendo to [p]laintiff, including the following:"

a. Telling Plaintiff that if she lost weight she would feel and look sexy;
b. Using the terms "Love, " "Sweetpea, " and "Sweets" in conversation with Plaintiff when referring to her;
c. Describing his sex life with his wife including telling Plaintiff that although he had slowed down with age he was still like a "jack rabbit" and maybe that's why they've had a number of children;
d. Telling Plaintiff a "joke" about a boy who did not want his mother to wash his white tube socks because he had masturbated and ejaculated into them;
e. Inquiring about Plaintiff and her husband's sex life, wondering whether it was the same as his - "on and off;"
f. Telling Plaintiff that around Harrisonburg the term "fiancée" is like "redneck layaway" - and how you can try them out before you buy the merchandise;
g. Giving Plaintiff a sample of a nasal spray and then "jokingly" telling her "it's for your nostrils - no ...

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