Dermatologist Expert Witness Testimony Allowed in Medical Malpractice Case

Plaintiff sued numerous defendants for medical malpractice in their treatment of her medical issues.  Plaintiff hired experts to testify and they were subsequently challenged.  The court denied the motion to exclude.

Facts:  This case (McBride v. Houston County Health Care Authority et al – United States District Court – Middle District of Alabama – June 11th 2015) involves a challenge to plaintiff’s dermatology expert witness testimony by the defendant.

The plaintiff, while in pre-custody in jail, was referred to a medical facility for a psychiatric evaluation.  She was prescribed a numerous amount  of medicine including Lamictal, a medication for seizures.  Lamictal has been known to cause Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS), a skin condition that could lead to permanent disfigurement.  She pleaded not to be released from the medical facility as she was told that she should be careful while on Lamictal, should not miss a dose, and should report any issues to the medical staff at the hospital. After being discharged from jail, her condition worsened.  After repeated attempts to find a medical determination for her symptoms, she was finally diagnosed with SJS, but it was too late, as she already had major symptoms of the disease, including being in constant and extreme pain.

McBride sued numerous entities and individuals, and this particular opinion is the result of a Daubert motion filed by the defendant Dr. Karumanchi to exclude the expert witness testimony of three doctor’s hired by the plaintiff.  We will focus on the dermatologist, Dr. Robert Auerbach.

Discussion: First, the defendant states that Dr. Auerbach (nor Dr. Nineberg, an expert in psychiatry, who was also called as an expert in this case) failed to show how Lamictal causes SJS or TEN (Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis) and should thus be excluded.  The court dismissed this argument, stating that these types of cause and effect determinations are not required under Daubert.  The defendant then argues that the testimony should be excluded because there is no double-blind study that confirms causation.  The court again disagreed, stating that there doesn’t need to be a double-blind study under Daubert.

The defendant also challenges the qualifications of Dr. Auerbach, stating that a chapter that he wrote on SJS and TEN was not an authoritative dermatological text and that the publisher of the chapter edited the text without telling him.  The court disagreed, stating that the magistrate judge that originally heard the arguments on the case  provided a long description of his qualifications, which was more than enough to pass the Daubert test.

The defendant also challenges the methodology that Dr. Auerbach used in concluding that higher doses of Lamictal cause SJS and TEN.  The court again disagreed with the defendant, stating that Dr. Auerbach was able to eliminate other causes of the symptoms that the plaintiff had.  The court stated that Dr. Auerbach has been consistent in his testimony that other explanations for the cause of the plaintiff’s symptoms and diagnosis are not scientific and lack common sense.  Thus, Dr. Aurbach’s qualifications are acceptable and his methodology is reliable.

Held:  The motion to exclude the testimony of Dr. Auerbach is denied.

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