Wound Care Expert Witness Required to Support Plaintiff’s Claims

Summary: Plaintiff’s failure to name a Wound Care Expert Witness to support his claims lead to the court granting defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

Facts: In Jenkins v. Karl HC LLC dba Villa Angela Care Center, 2020-Ohio-1137 (March 26, 2020), Plaintiff William sued the Villa Angela Care Center skilled nursing center and other doctors for allegedly poor care.  Plaintiff was a resident at the nursing home during 2014 and 2015.  During that time he was also under the care of Dr. McEldowney among other health care providers.

Plaintiff received outside treatment in December 2014 for wounds on his legs.  After that treatment, the plaintiff returned to the nursing home, and claimed that his wounds became worse as a result of the defendants’s failure to provide adequate care.  He also claimed that the nursing home and their doctors did not follow the advice and orders of his wound care doctor, Anthony Cozzolino.  Plaintiff Jenkins’ wounds on his legs became so bad that eventually his leg had to be amputated.

Jenkins filed a lawsuit against the nursing home, and one of the doctors in August, 2017.  In his suit, he claimed that the defendants engaged in nursing negligence and medical malpractice, which caused his leg to be amputated.

During discovery, the plaintiff named Dr. Cozzolino as his Wound Care Expert Witness.  However, when he was deposed, plaintiff’s expert could not say that the actions or inactions of the nursing home were the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s amputation.  The expert could not even conclude that it causally happened as a result of the care by the nursing home, because, in his words, at the time was at the nursing home the plaintiff was doing well.

Based on this, one of the doctors filed a motion for summary judgment, as did the nursing home Villa Angela.  In their motions, the defendants argued that because the plaintiff had failed to provide expert testimony to support his claim that the care he received at the nursing home lead to his injuries and subsequent amputation, the court should grant their motions for summary judgment.

In plaintiff’s response to the motions for summary judgment, he claimed that expert testimony to support his claim was not necessary because his claim was for ordinary negligence and was not a medical claim. Jenkins also included his own declaration that his injuries were caused by the nursing home and its doctors.

The trial court granted the motions for summary judgment in July, 2019.  In contrary to plaintiff’s claims, the trial court ruled that the plaintiff’s claim were not a simple negligence claim, but rather ones for medical malpractice.  They also found that plaintiff’s statement relied on hearsay.

Jenkins appealed the trial court’s ruling.

Discussion: Jenkins claims that the trial court was in error because it concluded that Wound Care Expert Witness testimony was required to create a material issue of fact sufficient enough to overcome the motion for summary judgment.  The appellate court stated that in order to demonstrate his claim of medical negligence, a Jenkins would have to show (1) a standard of care recognized within the medical industry, (2) that defendant breached that standard of care, and (3) there was a proximate cause between the breach of the standard of care and the plaintiff’s alleged injuries to his legs. Adams v. Kurz, 10th Dist. No. 09AP-1081, 2010-Ohio-2776, , citing Williams v. Lo, 10th Dist. No. 07AP-949, 2008-Ohio-2804, Also, expert witness testimony is necessary to prove a claim of medical malpractice when a jury lacks the knowledge or understanding of the elements of the case.

Conclusion: The appellate court was that plaintiff could recast his claims in a way to defeat a motion for summary judgment.  Given the lack of expert witness testimony, the trial court was correct in granting defendants’ motions for summary judgment.