Four Utah doctors have been dismissed from a lawsuit over the dehydration death of a girl in a wilderness-survival program.
The three Dixie Medical Center emergency-room physicians and a private psychologist were sued in federal court by the parents of Michelle Sutton.The 15-year-old Pleasanton, Calif., girl died on a Summit Quest outing in Arizona in May 1990.
Her parents sued several entities, including Summit Quest, the doctors and Dixie Medical Center in St. George, Utah.
The Suttons accepted $345,000 in 1992 to settle their claims against Summit Quest.
U.S. District Judge David Winder threw out allegations against Dixie Medical Center in June because a copy of the suit was not served on the hospital within the required 120 days.
Winder has now dismissed claims against the four doctors.
The judge has granted motions to dismiss the charges against then-emergency room physicians Ronald Larsen, Steven Van Norman and Robert O'Brien.
In rejecting the Suttons' malpractice contentions, Winder concluded there was no physician-patient relationship with the girl.
Evidence and arguments showed one of the doctors wrote an April 1990 letter indicating the doctors were consulting physicians for Summit Quest. They were expected to advise on exercise, food and other aspects of the rigorous program.
But the next time the emergency-room doctors heard from Summit Quest was two days after the girl had died, according to the judge's 18-page ruling. "Once Michelle collapsed, Summit Quest had no radio to summon emergency help," Winder said.
"There is no evidence establishing that the physicians knew the program began on May 1, 1990. . . . They were not notified that the program had started, they had no reason to suspect the program might start before further meetings to examine details of the program, they did not have the opportunity to examine the individual participants. . . they did not know Michelle and they never agreed to treat her," the judge said.
The Suttons' California lawyer did not return phone calls seeking comment. The girl's mother, Catherine Sutton, said the family will appeal Winder's ruling to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
After Winder's Aug. 8 ruling, only psychologist Richard Moody remained as a defendant, so the Suttons abandoned their case against him, said Moody's lawyer.
The judge also has pared down the counterclaim of Larsen, Van Norman and O'Brien against Summit Quest and Palmer, rejecting their demands for damages due to embarrassment and harm to their professional reputation. He will allow the doctors to pursue claims for attorney fees and other costs.