Dermatologist Qualified as Expert on Chemical Peel Standard of Care

A woman received a chemical peel that left her with painful burns and scars. She filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctors who performed the procedure and their medical practices.


During a trial before the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, counsel for the woman tried to qualify a board-certified dermatologist from Pennsylvania as an expert witness. She testified about her education, professional experience, and review of records at issue in the case. She identified texts, including both textbooks and peer reviewed journals, she believed were authoritative treatises in the field of dermatology. Counsel for the woman asked if the dermatologist was prepared to render an opinion as to the standard of care to a reasonable degree of medical certainty. The defendants objected arguing that counsel had not yet laid a proper foundation for the board-certified dermatologist 's opinion. The trial court sustained the objection. Counsel proceeded to ask whether the texts applied to a national standard of care with respect to dermatology. Before the doctor could answer, the court sustained another objection from the defendants and cut the questioning short.


The following day, the trial court granted appellees' motion for judgment as a matter of law. The trial court determined that the woman had failed to establish a basis for the board-certified dermatologist 's opinion about a national standard of care.


The District of Columbia Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s judgment in favor of the defendants and remanded for further proceedings. The court held that the woman’s counsel had elicited a proper foundation for the board-certified dermatologist 's opinion on a national standard of care before the trial court cut the questioning short. The court concluded that the board-certified dermatologist had presented a minimally sufficient foundation for her testimony because she testified as a board certified dermatologist, and indicated that she based her opinions on the literature of her specialty.


The court recognized that the specific issues in this trial were narrower than the general field of dermatology. However, the court noted that the texts initially identified by the board-certified dermatologist had titles suggesting they contained discussions of the proper performance of chemical peels. Thus, while counsel's final question may have been imprecisely worded, the record suggested that the board-certified dermatologist 's testimony would have been based on literature relevant to the issues being tried. The court surmised that, had the board-certified dermatologist been permitted to answer the last question posed by the woman's counsel, the foundation would have been even clearer to all involved.


See: Savage v. Burgess, 2013 WL 3820999 (D.C., July 25, 2013) (not designated for publication).


See also, Medical Law Perspectives September 2012 Report: Cosmetic Surgery Gone Wrong: High Hopes Meet Unexpected Results