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Trial Court Erred in Dismissing for Experts’ Failure to Address Standard of Care


A man underwent lower back surgery and later was discharged from the hospital. Due to pain and complications, the man was readmitted seven days after he was discharged. A physician’s order was issued directing nurses to ask that the doctor who performed the surgery be contacted to see the man regarding his symptoms. The nurses never contacted the doctor as ordered.

 

While still in the hospital, the man developed severe back pain and leg numbness. The nurses and doctor who performed the surgery failed to take steps upon becoming aware of the man’s condition to evaluate, treat, or care for him. Five days after he was readmitted to the hospital, another nurse took over the man’s care and performed an assessment on him. At that time, the man was unable to move his legs and was experiencing acute back and leg pain. That nurse did not communicate his worsening condition to a doctor.

 

The doctor who performed the surgery first heard of the man’s deteriorating condition about an hour and a half after the nurse assessed him. The doctor then ordered an MRI, which led to the diagnosis that the man was suffering from the effects of a compression of the cauda equina as a result of an epidural hematoma. The man ultimately suffered permanent paralysis of his lower extremities and has bowel and bladder dysfunction to the extent that he requires a catheter and a colostomy bag.

 

The man sued the hospital and doctor for medical malpractice. The District Court entered a scheduling order requiring the man to disclose his expert witnesses at least 100 days before trial, including their opinions and conclusions. The man filed his expert witness disclosures including opinions and conclusions. However, the disclosures did not reference the experts’ familiarity with the applicable standard of care. The hospital and doctor filed a motion in limine to strike and exclude the man’s expert witnesses on the basis that the expert witness disclosures made no mention of familiarity with the applicable standard of care. The trial court granted the motion in limine and summary judgment in favor of the hospital and doctor.

 

The Supreme Court of Idaho reversed. The court held the trial court erred in concluding that its scheduling order, which required disclosure of expert witnesses and their opinions and conclusions, also required disclosure of all foundational requirements, particularly, knowledge of the local standard of care.

 

The trial court erred in concluding that its scheduling order, which required disclosure of expert witnesses and their opinions and conclusions, also required disclosure of all foundational requirements, particularly, knowledge of the local standard of care. The trial court correctly perceived its decision to strike the man’s experts as one of discretion. However, the trial court acted outside the boundaries of that discretion and inconsistent with the Idaho Supreme Court’s precedent when it decided to strike the man’s experts. The foundational requirements for admissibility of expert witness testimony at trial or in summary judgment in a medical malpractice suit need not be included in the disclosure of the experts’ opinions and conclusions in the discovery stages of a case. Idaho law and rules of civil procedure contemplate that expert opinions can change and develop during the course of litigation. Without express language in the scheduling order requiring information regarding the standard of care, the court was unwilling to read that requirement into the order. The court would not uphold discovery sanctions that are based on a party’s failure to comply with disclosure requirements that do not appear on the face of the scheduling order. A mere conclusory statement that delay prejudiced a party, without more, does not show prejudice. The trial court also erred in failing to consider the man’s experts’ affidavits in granting the hospital and doctor’s motion for summary judgment. Because the court held that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding the man’s experts, the trial court should have considered the affidavits of the man’s experts to determine whether there was a genuine issue of material fact that precluded summary judgment.

 

The Supreme Court of Idaho reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the hospital and doctor.

 

See: Lepper v. Eastern Idaho Health Services, Inc., 2016 WL 852423 (Idaho, March 4, 2016) (not designated for publication).

 

See also Medical Law Perspectives, October 2014 Report: Backaches and Court Battles: When Chronic Back Pain Leads to Litigation

 

See the Medical Law Perspectives November 4, 2014, Blog: New Back Pain Treatment Options Offer Hope, Require Caution

 

 

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