Appellate Court reinstates medical malpractice claim after trial judge abused her discretion; attempted to decide "battle of experts."
In almost every medical malpractice case, the insurance attorneys for the doctor or hospital attempt to use their procedural and medical advantages to avoid a "trial on the merits" of the injury victim's claim. This effort bears fruit all too often, as the defense has virtually unlimited resources in cooperative doctors, a publishing industry and trade groups that contribute "scientific" or "advisory" research and guidelines, and, typically, sympathetic judges. In Figurski v. Trinity Health, and William Bradfield, M.D., the effort spawned a preliminary success that was even beyond the ken of two of the most insurance-oriented appellate judges.
In Figurski, the family of a brain-damaged baby sued the delivery people, arguing that a first-time mother had been over-dosed with Pitocin, allowed to labor far too long, and ultimately injured by excessive contractions, hypoxia and ischemia. They presented multiple highly-experienced physicians who attested that the delivery doctor had improperly exposed the baby to brain injury by failing to properly attend the delivery, monitor the fetal heart tones, and investigate the failure to progress.
A District Judge (sitting in Livingston County by assignment) scheduled a hearing in response to the defense motion to strike the Plaintiff's causation testimony. During that hearing, the Judge limited the Plaintiff to the testimony of only a single physician, ignored her opinions entirely (according to the higher court), and rejected the scientific conclusions that she drew from a dozen relevant medical articles. Even though the Defendants acknowledged that the expert was qualified ("highly qualified" according to the appellate judges), the trial judge ruled that her testimony was not reliable and could not form the foundation for a jury verdict. This resulted in the summary disposition of the family's claim.
As the reviewing judges explained, the trial judge was simply too zealous, and misunderstood her role in assessing the expert testimony. She took it upon herself to decide which experts to believe, rather than acknowledging the controversy and admitting all of the "reliable" evidence. The higher court panel unanimously acknowledged that the testimony presented by the family was clearly reliable and that it was for the jury to weigh that testimony against the defendants' experts' testimony in deciding the case.
The case--already four years old--was sent back to the trial court for further proceedings. The Court also rejected the defendants' argument that the family's vocational expert's opinions should be struck from evidence.