Woman Contracts Life-Altering Bacterial Infection At Island Golf Resort


Infectious Disease Expert

Court: United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, Charleston Division
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Kiessling v. Kiawah Island Inn Co. LLC
Citation: 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12057

This case involves a woman who was diagnosed with an infection secondary to Campylobacter bacteria. The woman allegedly contracted the infection after eating flounder at a golf resort on Kiawah Island, South Carolina. The plaintiff called an infectious disease expert witness to testify to causation, and the expert concluded that the flounder was in fact the source of the plaintiff’s infection.

Although the defense argued that the expert witness was not a Campylobacter specialist and that he failed to acknowledge the possibility of another source of the bacteria, the court ultimately found that the expert’s qualifications and testimony both met the Daubert criteria for admissibility.

Facts

The plaintiff went on vacation with her family to Kiawah Island in June of 2015. During her vacation in Kiawah, the plaintiff ate at several fast food restaurants including Chick-fil-a, Bessinger’s Barbecue, and McDonald’s.

Several days later, the plaintiff ate at the Jasmine Porch Restaurant, a restaurant located at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort. The resort was owned and operated by the defendant, Kiawah Island Inn Company (KIIC). The plaintiff had flounder for dinner. Around 2 am the following morning, the plaintiff developed diarrhea, the shakes, chills, and a fever. She later developed pain in her right knee and left ankle.

The plaintiff was taken to the emergency room where she was found to have bacteria called Campylobacter in her stool. The plaintiff’s doctors also diagnosed her with reactive arthritis, which was argued to be a side effect of Campylobacter bacteria. It was alleged that the plaintiff would never fully recover from her reactive arthritis and that she would require lifelong treatment.

The plaintiff filed suit against KIIC alleging negligence and recklessness, breach of warranty, and strict liability. She retained an expert in infectious diseases to opine on causation.

The Infectious Disease Expert’s Testimony

The plaintiff’s infectious disease expert held an MD and received both residency training and a postdoctoral fellowship in infectious diseases. The expert had experience working at the Center for Disease Control as well as experience directly treating cases of Campylobacter. Although he did not specialize specifically in the treatment of Campylobacter, the expert explained his experience treating Campylobacter during deposition.

The infectious disease expert opined that the Campylobacter came from cross-contamination of the flounder at Jasmine Porch and used differential diagnosis to come to this conclusion. The expert relied on an article that discussed the range of incubation periods for Campylobacter from different studies as well as the temporal relationship between the dinner and the symptoms. He also contended that the incubation periods for Campylobacter can vary but that generally, the symptoms of Campylobacter present within the first 15 hours following consumption or contact. The expert also opined that the plaintiff would likely have reactive arthritis for the rest of her life as a result of this incident.

KIIC moved its motion for summary judgment and to exclude the plaintiff’s expert.

The Defense’s Push-Back

The defendant moved to exclude the infectious disease expert on the ground of his lack of particular expertise with Campylobacter. The plaintiff countered by presenting the expert’s CV, which demonstrated his extensive experience as an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist who had previously treated Campylobacter patients.

KIIC also contended that the infectious disease expert made several conclusions that did not fit with the evidence of the case. Namely, the defendant argued that there was no evidence of Campylobacter cross-contamination at Jasmine Porch. KIIC contended that the expert had failed to acknowledge the possibility of another source of the Campylobacter bacteria. The defendant also contended that the infectious disease expert’s opinion was not reliable as it was litigation inspired.

With regard to the expert’s review of relevant literature, the defendant claimed that only one article supported the expert’s conclusion regarding incubation periods. The defendant further argued that assuming the plaintiff would have reactive arthritis for the rest of her life was nothing more than extrapolation from a literature review. KIIC argued that the expert’s conclusions used methodology that was not sufficient particularly an unnamed article and speculation to come to his opinions.

Held

The court denied the defendant’s motion to exclude the testimony of the plaintiff’s infectious disease expert.

It was determined that based on the expert’s medical training, his experience working with infectious diseases, and his knowledge of Campylobacter, he was qualified to testify as an expert in infectious diseases. Although he was not a Campylobacter specialist, Daubert did not mandate the witness have expertise in this specific area to testify.

The court held that the expert used differential diagnosis to come to his opinion that the flounder was the source of the plaintiff’s Campylobacter. As Daubert required, he “addressed obvious alternative causes and provided a reasonable explanation” for dismissing them. Whether the expert’s dismissal of other possible origins was satisfactory was a question for the jury.

The court also held that KIIC did not produce any evidence about the expert’s methodology that implied he modified it to get a particular outcome.

Relying on the expert’s qualifications as an infectious disease doctor, his review of the plaintiff’s medical records, and the literature he examined, the court found no gap in his evaluation that the plaintiff would deal with reactive arthritis for the rest of her life. Although the reliability of the expert’s conclusion was a narrow question, the court found that his conclusion was adequately reliable to allow into evidence and would let the jury ascertain its credibility.

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