Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Plaintiff successfully defends multiple challenges to experts, jurors, jury instructions and amount of damages awarded.


This is an appeal from a judgment entered on a jury verdict in the amount of $2,780,000 in a medical malpractice action based upon a failure to detect and report an abnormality on a mammogram. Robin Farley ("the Patient") and her husband, Dennis Farley ("the Husband"), are the plaintiffs in this action; they are referred to collectively in this opinion as "the Plaintiffs." Dr. James Rouse and his employer, Oak Ridge Medical Imaging, P.C., dba Oak Ridge Breast Center, P.C. ("the Breast Center"), are the defendants, referenced collectively as "the Defendants." The Patient reported to the Breast Center on November 15, 2001, for a mammogram. Dr. Rouse read the mammogram and reported his findings as normal. In 2004, the Patient noticed an indentation in her right breast. Follow-up care revealed stage IV incurable breast cancer.

According to the Plaintiffs, the cancer was present in 2001, and was treatable and curable had it been properly detected and reported. The Defendants conceded very little and alleged, as an affirmative defense, that the Patient knew that repeat mammograms were needed but failed to come back until it was too late. The case was tried to a jury over four consecutive days. The jury began deliberations on a Friday and resumed and announced its verdict on the following Monday. It found the Defendants negligent, but apportioned 20% of the fault to the Plaintiffs, apparently based upon the Patient's failure to have a timely follow-up mammogram. The Defendants appeal, raising a host of issues. We affirm.

The full text of this opinion is available at the TBA website:

"The points of contention in this case – which are initially less than clear – are, (1) whether, and if so, the extent to which the medical expert’s knowledge of the matters set out in subdivision (a) (1) must be “personal” knowledge , (2) whether an expert licensed in a contiguous state in the relevant time frame must also know the standard of care in a comparable community in order to qualify as a causation expert, and (3) the extent to which the contiguous state requirement can be established to the trial judge’s satisfaction through material not admitted or admissible into evidence." Id.

"We do not believe Eckler went so far as to hold that the bridge of similarity from the community where the expert practices to the community where the defendant doctor practices, must all be built on personal, firsthand knowledge." Id.

"We agree completely with the approach taken in Russell. The quoted language from Payne concerning the “entwined” nature of causation and standard of care testimony is true enough, but should not be read to impose requirements not imposed by the language of the statute. This is especially true given that Payne based its holding on the “clarity” of the statute. We hold that a causation expert who does not testify on the standard of care is not required to establish familiarity with the standard of care." Id. (Case citations omitted)

"To conclude the point, we agree with the trial court that for Dr. Mitchell to take the stand and testify that he reviewed the 2001 mammogram and read it as normal, with no indicators of cancer, was to indirectly comment on the standard of care. Accordingly, we hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in so limiting the scope of Dr. Mitchell’s testimony." Id.

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