Medical Expert Witness Admissibility in Healthcare Case
Plaintiff Irene Rodriguez (“Rodriguez”) brought this lawsuit on behalf of herself and as parent and legal guardian of her surviving prematurely born twin, A.R. Plaintiff Maria Antonia Santos (“Santos”) brought this lawsuit as representative of the estate of B.R., Rodriguez’s other prematurely born twin, who is now deceased. Rodriguez and Santos (collectively, “plaintiffs”) alleged that Defendants Southern Health Partners, Inc. (“SHP”), Grady Shaw, M.D. (“Dr. Shaw”), and Linda Hullett, R.N. (“Hullett”) failed to provide proper prenatal care to Rodriguez while she was incarcerated as a pretrial detainee at the Navarro County Jail (the “Jail”). Defendants moved for summary judgment and to strike Plaintiffs’ designated medical experts.
Medical Expert Witness
Defendants first contended that they were entitled to summary judgment on the grounds that Plaintiffs’ claims against Dr. Shaw were time-barred.
Defendants also moved for summary judgment on the ground that Plaintiffs had failed to designate expert witnesses qualified under Federal Rules of Evidence 702 and Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 74.401 (West 2003) to testify to the standard of care that Dr. Shaw and Hullett should have provided to Rodriguez and her twins.
Robert James Carpenter, Jr., M.D. (“Dr. Carpenter”) is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology, has taught courses in obstetrics and gynecology, and has published several articles on topics related to obstetrics and gynecology. He is a reviewer for several relevant academic journals, has served on several related committees, and currently practices medicine in obstetrics and gynecology.
Donald F. Meyn, Jr., M.D. (“Dr. Meyn”) is board certified in general pediatrics and in neonatal-perinatal medicine. He also completed several post-doctoral training programs in pediatrics and neonatology, and he has published and presented research in these fields. He has practiced neonatology since 2006 and presently practices with a company that provides neonatology services.
Dr. Carpenter and Dr. Meyn were retained by the Plaintiff to testify about the applicable standards of care, deviation from those standards, causation, and damages.
Defendant argued that Dr. Carpenter and Dr. Meyn were not qualified considering they lacked the training to practice medicine in a correctional setting. Moreover, they practiced in different specialties from Dr. Shaw and they lacked the background to testify to Hullett’s obligations as a nurse.
Plaintiff replied that it was not necessary for the expert to practice in the same specialty or setting to be familiar with and adequately testify regarding the standards of care applicable.
Discussion by the Court
According to Federal Rules of Evidence 702, “the court may admit proffered expert testimony only if the proponent, who bears the burden of proof, demonstrates that (1) the expert is qualified, (2) the evidence is relevant to the suit, and (3) the evidence is reliable.”
The Court found both Dr. Carpenter, board certified in obstetrics and gynecology, and Dr. Meyn, board certified in general pediatrics and in neonatal-perinatal medicine qualified to opine on the issues involved in this case, such as the standard of care that should be exercised when treating a patient who is pregnant with twins and displaying signs of imminent labor. Their testimony was also relevant since they were testifying regarding the standard of care applicable, which was a critical issue in this case. The Court also held that the methodology employed by Dr. Carpenter and Dr. Meyn was indeed reliable despite being of a kind repeatedly used in medical malpractice cases so long as the medical records of the Plaintiff were reviewed and certain conclusions regarding the treatment that Defendants administered were reached based on their training and experience as insisted by Dr. Carpenter and Dr. Meyn on their deposition testimony. The Court held that even though the deposition testimony of both these doctors were considered conclusive proof of the admissibility of their testimony, Defendants were still permitted to challenge the weight of their testimony through vigorous cross-examination, presentation of contrary evidence, and careful instruction on the burden of proof.
Defendants did not challenge the general medical qualification of Dr. Carpenter and Dr. Meyn but argue that their testimony is inadmissible as per Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 74.401 (West 2003) owing to their lack of specialized expertise and experience in a correctional setting. The Court once again held that this argument calls into question the weight to be assigned to instead of the admissibility of the testimony which the Defendants are free to take up through cross examination. Both the experts specialize in a relevant field and hence are familiar with twin pregnancies and imminent preterm labor, which are the medical conditions involved in this case. Texas law clearly provides that the critical factor is the expert’s familiarity with the medical condition involved. Moreover, Dr. Carpenter and Dr. Meyn have relevant experience working with and overseeing the work of nurses as well as contributing to some extent to the training of nurses and hence are qualified to opine on the standards of care applicable to nurses in their respective fields of medicine. The Court found them qualified to opine on the standard of care which Hullett was expected to adhere to in the instant case.
The Court decided that Defendants established beyond peradventure that Rodriguez’s individual claims against Dr. Shaw were time-barred. The Court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment in this respect. Defendants failed, however, to show that the claims against Dr. Shaw brought on behalf of A.R. and B.R. were likewise time-barred. Thus, the motion for summary judgment was denied by the Court as to those claims. The Court denied the Defendants’ motion to strike the testimony of Robert James Carpenter, Jr. and Donald F. Meyn, Jr., M.D.
Since the proceedings in the instant case are ongoing, the outcome of the case remains to be seen.
- Lack of Specialized Expertise–> Both federal
–and state –law standards of admissibility insist on the medical expert being familiar with the medical conditions involved in a medical malpractice case. Specialized Expertise is not needed to generate admissible opinions as long as the expert demonstrates sufficient understanding of the medical conditions involved.
- Weight vs. Admissibility–> If the Court declares that the opposing party’s arguments calls into question the weight to be assigned to instead of the admissibility of the expert’s testimony, the opposing party is free to pursue the challenge by cross-examining the expert instead of demanding an exclusion on grounds of inadmissibility.
- Relevance of the testimony–> Dr. Carpenter and Dr. Meyn’s testimony regarding the applicable standards of care, deviation from those standards, causation, and damages was relevant to assess applicable standard of care and determine alleged negligence in the instant case.
- Reliability of the testimony–> The Court found the deposition testimony of Dr. Carpenter and Dr. Meyn reliable as long they were sufficiently based on their training and experience since bases and sources of the expert’s testimony being called into question affect the weight to be assigned to the testimony rather than its admissibility.