Texas Court Admits Testimony Of Medical Expert Who Admits He Is Less Qualified Than The Opposing Expert


Infectious Disease Expert

Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Lufkin Division
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Duplantis v. James
Citation: 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127306

Facts

This case involves a construction project that took place on personal property in Texas. The plaintiff was a general carpenter who informed the defendant couple that he had extensive experience in flooring. The defendant discussed with the plaintiff renovations plans that he and his wife wanted for a structure on their property as well as other carpentry work they needed. The parties entered into an oral agreement by which the plaintiff would work on the construction project for the defendants.

The defendants furnished most of the tools and all of the materials that the plaintiff used on the project. At some point, scaffolding became necessary. The plaintiff alleged that he requested numerous times that defendants rent Safeway scaffolding, but that the defendants instructed the plaintiff to construct scaffolding from the material onsite. The defendants alleged that the plaintiff designed and constructed the scaffolding. The plaintiff alleged that one of the defendants hit his head on the scaffolding several times prior to the plaintiff’s alleged injury.

On February 23, 2011, the plaintiff alleged that he was moving boards from one room in the structure to another room in the structure. The plaintiff claimed he hit his head on the scaffolding as he carried a board from one room to another. The plaintiff alleged that this injury led to severe and ongoing pain. Several months after the alleged injury, the plaintiff was diagnosed with spondylodiscitis, primary infection of the intervertebral disc by a pathogen, with secondary infection of neighboring vertebral bodies.

The Expert

The plaintiff’s expert was a medical doctor with more than 30 years of experience in emergency room medicine. The expert’s report was based on an examination of the plaintiff’s medical records as well as peer-reviewed medical journals. The expert stated in his report that traumatic edema, particularly in elderly males, can cause this form of infection in otherwise healthy tissue, and that the plaintiff’s head injury, with associated to spine trauma, would have led such traumatic edema. The expert also stated that the defendant medical expert was more qualified to opine on questions of infectious disease than he was. The defendants moved to exclude the plaintiff’s expert, arguing that because the doctor was not an infectious disease expert, he was not qualified to testify about the plaintiff’s rare spondylodiscitis infection.

Court’s Analysis

The court held that because the plaintiff’s expert was a medical doctor who based his opinions on peer-reviewed literature, the fact that he was not an infectious disease specialist went to the weight of his testimony, not to his admissibility.

The defendants argued that the plaintiff’s expert based his opinion on the plaintiff’s account of his injuries, and that there were no diagnostic tests showing neck trauma. As a general rule, questions relating to the bases and sources of an expert’s opinion affect the weight to be assigned that opinion rather than its admissibility and should be left for the jury’s consideration.

The defendants further alleged that the opinions of the plaintiff’s expert were unreliable because they were not supported by medical research or literature. The defendants claimed that the expert’s methods had not been tested, peer reviewed, and were not generally accepted in the medical community. However, the expert’s report was based on several peer-reviewed articles, which he cited in his report. The defendants further argued that the expert should not have relied on those articles because the studies of individuals with spondylodiscitis did not suffer the same sort of trauma that the plaintiff did. The court held that the disagreement with the bases and sources of the expert’s opinion went to the weight, not the admissibility.

The defendants also argued that the expert’s conclusion was based entirely on unsupported speculation. However, the court referenced the expert’s report, which stated that the concept of trauma leading to spondylodiscitis infections was discussed in the literature and references peer-reviewed articles. Therefore, it was determined that the experts conclusions were not based purely on speculation.

Lastly, the defendants pointed to the expert’s statement that the defendant expert witness had greater qualifications and experience in the field of infectious disease. Courts do not generally rely upon an expert’s self-evaluation of credentials. Modesty, even false modesty, does not disqualify an expert. The plaintiff expert’s appraisal of himself and the defendant medical expert could have been considered by the jury when evaluating the weight to be given to his testimony.

The motion to exclude the plaintiff expert’s testimony was denied.

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