Court of Appeals panel chastises lower court for dismissing Manistee malpractice case
William Garcia sued West Shore Medical Center and two doctors after his wife, Beverly, died while in their care. He argued that an incompletely treated skin infection progressed to fatal pneumococcal pneumonia. The insurer for the doctors argued that it is medically and scientifically impossible for this to occur. Garcia's lawyers presented a physician specialist's testimony documenting how progression to pneumonia can happen; he supported his explanation with cites to four peer-reviewed articles documenting the fact that patients with erysipelas and cellulitis can develop bacteremia. The insurer presented expert testimony that attempted to refute the Plaintiff's expert, but no one produced any medical literature to support the defense experts' position.
Although the trial judge was to interpret the literature in the light "most favorable" to the person resisting summary disposition, and was not to "weigh the credibility" of the admissible claims of witnesses, the judge deemed the plaintiff's case unsupported by credible expert testimony and summarily dismissed it. The family appealed and the Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the trial judge had committed reversible error.
The higher court pointed out that the family presented a qualified expert physician who supported his scientific opinions with multiple, credible peer-reviewed articles from the medical literature. The defense responded only with "ipse dixit" personal opinion from experts who were "far from neutral" (one derived almost 15% of his income from testifying for malpractice defendants). The Court noted that the latter expert could not reliably testify about the "general acceptance" of the Plaintiff's expert opinions, and that it was error to summarily dismiss the case based on his testimony.