Geriatrics and Pathology Expert Witnesses Allowed in Medical Malpractice Case.

The estate of the decedent filed a lawsuit against a rehabilitation center for administrative and corporate medical malpractice.  Plaintiffs and defendants both called expert witnesses.

Facts:  This case (Pinnix v. SSC Silver Stream Operating Co. – United States District Court – Eastern District of North Carolina – March 1st, 2017) involves claims of administrative and corporate medical malpractice.  The plaintiffs are executors of the estate of David W. Jackson (decedent).  While a resident of the Silver Stream Health and Rehabilitation Center, decedent, while unsupervised, drove his motorized wheelchair out the front door of the center, rolled over a curb, and fell out of the wheelchair directly on his face and head.  The decedent passed away five days later.  In order to prove their case, the defendant (Silver Spring) hired Gregory A. Compton, M.D. (Geriatrics Expert Witness) and William R. Oliver (Pathology Expert Witness).  In addition, the plaintiffs hired Thomas D. Owens (Pathology Expert Witness) to provide testimony.  Both parties filed motions to exclude their adversary’s experts.

Discussion: The plaintiffs move to exclude testimony by Drs. Compton and Oliver that decedent suffered a cardiac event before he fell off his wheelchair.  Their argument for exclusion is based on the following grounds:  1) the opinions will not help the jury; 2) the opinions are not based on sufficient facts or data; 3) the opinions are not based on reliable methods and principles; and 4) they did not reliably apply the appropriate methods and principles to this case.

First, the plaintiffs argue that the doctors opinions are not supported by any scientific or medical evidence.  The court disagreed, stating that the doctors reviewed the decedents medical records, deposition testimony, from the treating physician, and numerous other documents, and that they will also rely on their medical knowledge and experience to educate the jury.  In addition, the plaintiffs claim that the doctors did not rely on their medical expertise to come to their conclusions.  Again, the court disagreed, stating that the doctors did indeed rely on their medical expertise and that any inconsistencies go to the weight of the testimony, not their admissibility.

The plaintiffs also argue that the doctors’ opinions are unreliable in that they do not consider and rule out other causes of the decedents fall and is also not based on enough evidence.  The court again disagreed, stating that experts do not need to eliminate all possible causes of injuries  to be admissible.  To be sure, the doctors do discuss other potential causes of the decedent’s fall.  Also, the doctors opinions are, in fact, based on sufficient evidence because the relied on scientific knowledge and medical expertise to come to their conclusions.  Thus, the motion to exclude the testimony of these experts will be denied.

The defendants argue that plaintiffs’ expert, Dr. Owens, should be excluded from testifying that the decedent died from hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy.  They claim that his testimony is based on speculative data and that his expert opinion is not based on reliable methods and principles.  The court opined that Dr. Owens opinions were based on a review of the medical records, witness statements, and the death certificate.  Even though he based some of his opinions on eyewitnesses, that does not make his testimony unreliable.   In addition, his testimony will be allowed even though he did not consider the decedents entire medical history (he was never provided the entire medical record).  He did have sufficient information to form his opinion.

Conclusion:  The motions to exclude the testimony of these experts will be denied.