Court throws out Plaintiff's nursing expert, despite 33 years' experience
Larry Rickman was hurt when he fell out of his hospital bed after suffering a stroke. The Defendant Port Huron Hospital nurse had determined that he was at low risk of falling, although the Physical Therapist came to the opposite conclusion. Rickman's attorneys presented an RN with 33 years of experience as his expert; it was her opinion that the fall risk should have been rated higher and that a bed alarm should have been utilized. The Hospital sought to exclude her opinions as "speculative" and argued that since her last decade of care was in an outpatient cardiac facility, she was not qualified to testify. In the interim, the Plaintiff's expert was diagnosed with a serious illness and the Plaintiff's sought permission of the court to replace her.
The trial judge ruled that it was too late to replace the ill expert, and that she was not qualified to testify. The judge rejected the proposed expert's affidavit and the idea that her work evaluating and managing fall risks was the same as the work performed by the defendant nurse. The judge also concluded that it was unduly speculative for her to conclude that the alarm would have prevented injury.
The two-judge Court of Appeals majority upheld the trial judge's ruling on all counts. The dissenting judge pointed out that the facts of how the fall occurred were open to analysis and interpretation by the jury, and that it was for jurors to decide what weight should be given her testimony, given her career of related experience. All three judges conceded that the plaintiff's expert met the statutory qulification of practicing the same profession as the defendant.