Expert testimony is usually the linchpin of any medical malpractice case. It is the expert who will help prove that the defendant had a duty, breached that duty and that the breach caused the plaintiff’s damages. However, getting an expert’s testimony into evidence can be more difficult than one might think. Antonio Ribeiro found that out in his Rhode Island medical malpractice case.
The plaintiff, Antonio Ribeiro, filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against his optometrist, Dr. Martin Newman and against Dr. Newman’s employer, Rhode Island Eye Institute, LLC.
The plaintiff claimed that Dr. Newman breached the requisite standard of care in failing to properly diagnose a detached retina and that the failure to diagnose caused a loss of his site in the eye.
At trial, it was found that while Dr. Newman had in fact deviated from the requisite standard of care in failing to diagnose the detached retina, the lack of a diagnosis did not lead to the plaintiff’s loss of vision.
The plaintiff moved for a new trial on the basis that the trial court judge erred by restricting the trial testimony of his expert witness. The motion was denied and an appeal was made.
The Supreme Court concluded that the trial court judge did, in fact, err when he limited the testimony of the plaintiff’s expert causation witness.
Dr. Bressler, an ophthalmologist, was scheduled to testify for the plaintiff and speak to the causes and consequences of the fluid buildup that occurred in the plaintiff’s right eye. The trial court judge ruled, however, that Dr. Bressler’s testimony would be limited. The plaintiff argued that his case would be prejudiced because it would prevent the witness from testifying about how the condition of his eye worsened over time.
The Supreme Court referenced that in medical malpractice cases, an expert witness must state that the opinions offered rise to the level of a reasonable certainty, that is, some degree of positiveness or probability and not merely a possibility. Further, in a medical malpractice action, the burden is on the plaintiff to establish that the defendant had a duty to act or refrain from acting and that there was a causal connection between his or her breach of that duty and the plaintiff’s injury.
A trial justice is permitted to limit evidence, including testimony if the probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. However, when weighing that balance, the trial justice must remember that helpfulness to the jury is the most critical consideration. The Supreme Court did not think that Dr. Bressler’s testimony was either irrelevant nor enormously prejudicial and ruled that it should not have been limited. Without the limitation, the plaintiff would have been in a much stronger position to show a causal link between the Dr,’s negligence and his damages.
The judgment was vacated and remanded for a new trial.
Medical malpractice can have devastating effects that last a lifetime. If you have been injured by a physician’s neglect, attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian will work to get you the full compensation to which you are entitled. Call 800-529-6162 today or contact them online for a free case evaluation. They handle cases in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.
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