Expert Witnesses Allowed in Liver Cancer Medical Malpractice Action

The defendant’s challenge of two expert witnesses were denied.  Judge finds testimony of witnesses are qualified, relevant, and reliable.

Facts: This case (Redmond v. United States of America – United States District Court – Eastern District of Michigan – July 11th, 2016) involves a medical malpractice claim against the defendant (government) for failure to diagnose a Hepatitis B infection.  This infection, claims the plaintiff (Estate of Redmond), was the cause of Herbert Redmond’s liver cancer, and ultimate demise.   In order to prove their case, the plaintiff hired three expert witnesses:  Bruce Bacon, M.D. (Hepatology (Liver) Expert Witness), Susan Cass (Nursing Expert Witness), and Michael Thompson, Ph.D (Economics Expert Witness).   The defendant challenged the substance of Dr. Bacon’s and Nurse Cass’s expert witness testimony.

Discussion:  The government challenges Dr. Bacon’s testimony on two grounds: 1) that he did not review the guidelines published by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AALSD) and thus cannot explain why treatment of the Hepatitis B would be needed and 2) that Dr. Bacon is not qualified to offer an opinion on what caused the decedent to get liver cancer because he is not an oncologist.

The court disagreed with the government.  First, Dr. Bacon is qualified by his experience and medical training.  The government points out potential isolated flaws of Dr. Bacon’s opinions, which fail.  They do not attack his training in Hepatology and his experience in the treatment of liver disease.  In addition, the government does not offer any expert witness testimony or any medical literature to refute Dr. Bacon’s testimony.  In addition, Dr. Bacon established that his views of the need for treatment of liver disease and it’s casual connection to lung cancer are widely accepted in the literature and among his peers.

Also, the argument that Dr. Bacon’s lack of reviewing the AALSD guidelines is misplaced.  Even though it is well founded, the argument goes to the weight of the testimony and not its admissibility.  To be sure, the court points out that Michigan law (which governs the present case) states  that professional negligence must be covered by the testimony of experts, not just reference to guidelines.  Also, Dr. Bacon pointed out that the guidelines do not dictate the type of care that should be given to each patient.  That is why they are called guidelines.

Regarding the testimony of Nurse Cass, the government argues that she is not qualified to testify because she doesn’t have experience as a hospital nurse at a VA hospital in Detroit, Michigan and has never been licensed in the state.  The court disagreed, stating that a geographic location is not a factor when the applicable standard of care concerns commonplace issues.  In addition, the court points to a Michigan Court of Appeals opinion that an expert testifying on the standard of case for a nurse may establish that it is the same in any community.  In addition, the government has not offered any rebuttal or proof that the standard of care would be different if Nurse Cass were from a different region in the United States.  To be sure, any argument like this would go to the weight of the testimony.

Conclusion: The motion to exclude the testimony of Dr. Bacon and Nurse Cass is denied.