Family Practice/Family Medicine and Social Work/Social Services Expert Witness Testimony Allowed in Part

Plaintiffs’, former students, sued defendant insurance company for coverage for a dispute with their former school.  The plaintiffs hired a family practice/family medicine expert witness and and a social work/social services expert witness to assist in their case.  The defendant filed a motion to exclude.  The court granted the motions in part and denied them in part.

Facts:  This case (Walden et al v. Maryland Casualty Company – United States District Court – District of Montana – December 4th, 2017) involves an insurance coverage dispute.  The underlying dispute was between Dahl’s College of Beauty and numerous former students.  The students allege that instructors committed inappropriate acts against the students.  This lawsuit followed.  In order to prove their case, the plaintiffs hired Dr. Barak Gaster (family practice/family medicine expert witnesses) and Katy Nicholls, LCSW (social work/social services expert witness).  The defendant (“Maryland”) filed motions to exclude the testimony of these experts.

Discussion: Maryland’s motion argues that Dr. Gaster’s testimony should be excluded because he did not rely on any of the Plaintiffs’ medical records before forming his causation opinion.  The Plaintiffs state that Dr. Gaster is qualified based on his teaching and background in medicine and that he: 1) reviewed statement provided by each of the plaintiffs; 2) reviewed affidavits signed by the plaintiffs; 3) reviewed plaintiffs’ responses; 4) spoke to the other expert; 5) skimmed the Plaintiffs’ medical records; and 6) reviewed authoritative literature on the topic.

Dr. Gaster was retained to explain the difference between emotional distress and physical manifestations and we all as opine on the causation relative to the manifestations of distress and exposures at Dahl’s.  The court opined that he did not examine any of the plaintiffs and only relied on their statements, other documents, and Nicholls.  Even though he was provided with medical records for the Plaintiffs, he did not review them.  Thus, the court opined, he did not diagnose a patient using the usual diagnostic process.  Thus, the court opined that Dr. Gaster will not not be allowed to offer opinions on the individual Plaintiffs, but he will be allowed to opine on emotional distress as it relates to physical symptoms.

Maryland also objects to the testimony of Katy Nicholls, arguing that she is not qualified because she is not a medical doctor.  In addition, they argue that she did not consider the Plaintiffs’ medical histories when forming her opinions and that her opinion was a legal conclusion.  The court opined that many federal courts have allowed license clinical social workers to testify on mental health issues.  The court opined that Nicholls will be allowed to testify whether the Plaintiffs showed physical manifestations that can be attributed to their experience at Dahl’s.  That said, Nicholls will be excluded from offering testimony in the form of a legal conclusion that the physical manifestations constitute a “bodily injury”.  Any other arguments can be brought up during cross examination.

Conclusion: The motions to exclude the expert witness testimony of Dr. Barak Gaster and Katy Nicholls, LCSW are denied in part and granted in part.