Court: Court of Appeals of Mississippi
Case Name: Cleveland v. Hamil
Citation: 155 So. 3d 829
The plaintiff brought this medical malpractice suit against two hospital physicians who treated her deceased husband. The deceased initially presented to the hospital with severe abdominal pain. A gastroenterologist treated the deceased for a gastrointestinal (GI) bleed and a cardiovascular surgeon performed an ulcer surgery on the patient. The deceased was discharged from the hospital when his condition started improving after the surgery. The next day, the deceased again visited the hospital with more stomach pain and vomiting blood. A second surgery was performed which revealed a second ulcer. The second ulcer had gradually destroyed a large blood vessel which resulted in massive massive blood flow and, ultimately, the patient’s death.
The Expert Witness
The plaintiff retained an expert witness who was board-certified in general and thoracic surgery and had practiced both specialties for 30 years. The expert testified that he was not a gastroenterologist, had no gastroenterology training, and had never performed any gastroenterologist-specific medical procedures. When he was questioned by the defendant’s attorney, the expert claimed that he was familiar with the standards of care applicable to any physician.
During discovery, the expert opined that the deceased’s doctors deviated from the standard of care by failing to prescribe anti-ulcer medication at his discharge thereby allowing the second ulcer to develop post-discharge. The defendant gastroenterologist filed a motion in limine to exclude the defendant expert’s testimony. The defendant objected to the expert’s qualifications, as he was not familiar with the specialty of gastroenterology.
The circuit court held that the expert was qualified in thoracic and cardiovascular surgery but was not qualified in gastroenterology, (in which the defendant specialized).
The supreme court had held in earlier cases that it was illogical to allow a proposed expert to testify as to the standard of care of a specialty with which he has no demonstrated familiarity. Applying the same rulings, the present court found it illogical to allow the expert to testify as to the standard of care of a gastroenterologist because he lacked familiarity with such specific standards. The court found that the expert’s experience as a surgeon with the subject of upper GI bleeds did not render him familiar with the standard of care required for a gastroenterologist treating an upper GI bleed.
Thus, the circuit judge held that the expert was not qualified to opine on gastroenterology standards of care. Because the plaintiff had failed to present a legitimate medical-malpractice claim, judgement was given in favor of the defendant.
What We Can Learn From This Case
To prove a medical malpractice, a plaintiff must present expert testimony on the specialty of the doctor being sued. Only an expert witness with the same specialty and credentials as the physician in question is qualified to opine as to whether or not the physician deviated from the standards of care specific to the specialty at issue.