OB/GYN Expert Opines On Causation in Brachial Plexus Birth Injury Case


Court: United States District Court for the District of Kansas
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Ecalante v. Lifepoint Hosp., Inc.
Citation: 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 109449

Facts

The plaintiff filed a medical malpractice claim against the defendant alleging that the defendant’s negligent care during the plaintiff’s delivery caused the plaintiff’s daughter to suffer permanent brachial plexus injury.

The defendant presented expert witnesses to opine that the injury had not been caused due to negligence, but had occurred spontaneously in-utero by natural maternal forces. The plaintiff moved to exclude the testimony of the defendant’s OB/GYN expert witness, arguing her testimony was speculative and that her theory of causation was unscientific, unreliable, and not supported by the facts.

The OB/GYN Expert

The defendant’s OB/GYN expert witness worked at the Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita. She had education, training, and experience in prenatal and postnatal care—including delivering babies and dealing with high-risk pregnancies—and was also trained in the management of shoulder dystocia, specifically brachial plexus injury. The expert witness completed her residency at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita in Obstetrics and Gynecology and finished her fellowship in Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City in 1995.

Discussion

The court found the expert qualified to testify. The court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim that the expert did not specialize in brachial plexus injury noting that an expert is qualified as long as their testimony stays within the reasonable confines of his subject area (citing Ralston v. Smith & Nephew Richards, Inc., 275 F.3d 965, 970 (10th Cir. 2001)), and that lack of specialization does not affect the admissibility of an expert’s opinion, only its weight.

The court also found no basis for the plaintiff’s contention that the expert should not be allowed to opine on alternative causation. It was the plaintiff’s responsibility to prove causation due to negligence, not the defendant’s. The court noted that the “burden was on the plaintiff to establish with the requisite degree of certainty that her condition was a result of the surgery” and that a “reasonable defense presentation would be one that calls the certainty of that conclusion into question” (citing Cohen, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5989, 2004 WL 763961).

The court was also persuaded by the defendant’s argument that similar defense expert testimony was deemed admissible in multiple cases, such as in Powter v. Bowman 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91042, 2006 WL 3760267 (D. Colo. 2006), and in Clark ex rel. Clark v. Hendrick, 150 F.3d 912, 915 (8th Cir. 1998) (holding that defendant physician’s expert testimony as to possible causes of brachial plexus injuries was admissible).

Held

The court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim that the expert’s testimony was not admissible according to the Daubert standards. It was held than an OB/GYN expert is qualified to render an opinion as long as he or she stays within the reasonable confines of their subject area.

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