Correctional Medicine Expert Testimony Partially Excluded for Misleading the Jury

The plaintiff sued the defendant nurse for declining to see him when he complained of severe pain from kidney stones while he was imprisoned.

Wendy Ketner, M.D.

Written by
— Updated on September 15, 2021

Correctional Medicine Expert Testimony Partially Excluded for Misleading the Jury

Court: United States District Court for the District of Colorado
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Al-Turki v. Robinson
Citation: 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 145608

The plaintiff attempted to exclude the defendant’s urology expert’s opinions on correctional medicine. The court granted and denied parts of the plaintiff’s motion to exclude the defendant’s experts.

Facts

The plaintiff brought this lawsuit against the defendant, alleging a breach of his Eighth Amendment rights. The alleged breach of rights occurred one night in the jail where the plaintiff was imprisoned. The plaintiff complained of severe pain, later discovered to be a result of kidney stones. However, the defendant, a nurse on duty at the prison, declined to see him. The plaintiff then filed a motion to exclude the defendant’s urology expert’s individual opinions about correctional medicine, among other things.

The Defendant’s Correctional Medicine Expert Witness

The correctional medicine expert was a board-certified doctor for Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery. The expert was an associate professor at a university and a faculty member at its medical school. The expert was the Co-Director of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery, Reconstructive Urology.

The plaintiff moved to exclude his following findings:

  1. Minimal size and garden-variety chemical composition of kidney stones the plaintiff passed
  2. The plaintiff’s kidney stones were not life-threatening and did not cause permanent physical damage
  3. The plaintiff’s illness did not require an ER visit because the plaintiff would have only received ibuprofen
  4. The waiting time for a kidney stone patient in the ER would have been about 4–6 hours
  5. Most people with chronic kidney stones would have passed them spontaneously at home without any intervention

Arguments

The plaintiff claimed the first finding had to be excluded because the plaintiff could have moved another stone. In addition, the stone might have fallen apart during the passage. The plaintiff further insisted that these opinions were irrelevant to the instant case. The expert acknowledged these kidney stone characteristics were not correlated to the extent of the discomfort the plaintiff allegedly experienced. The plaintiff argued the court should exclude the second finding because these views were irrelevant. The plaintiff argued this finding would confuse the jury. This particular finding might incorrectly imply that these outcomes were necessary to prove the plaintiff’s argument.

The plaintiff claimed the court should exclude the third finding because the correctional medicine expert was unqualified. He was neither a correctional medicine nor an emergency medicine expert. Further, the evidence was irrelevant. The plaintiff here alleged that he suffered severe pain and feared that he might die. He did not claim he needed to go to the ER.

The plaintiff argued the court should exclude the fourth finding because the expert was unqualified. The opinion was not beneficial to the jury as it was detached from the circumstances of this case. The defendant maintained the correctional medicine expert was competent and had ER experience. The defendant claimed the hospital could be provided as an indication of standard waiting times the plaintiff may have experienced.

The plaintiff also moved to exclude the fifth finding. The plaintiff pointed out that this opinion was relevant to a patient with a “chronic history” of kidney stones. This opinion implied that such a patient would have some knowledge of the cause of his discomfort. Whereas in the facts of this case, the plaintiff’s kidney stones were undiagnosed and had no chronic history. The defendant did not respond directly to this statement.

Discussion

The court noted the first finding was relevant. The expert’s evaluation of the kidney stones’ type here formed his assessment of the severity of the plaintiff’s medical condition. His medical condition was the first analytical prong of the plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment, citing Mata v. Saiz. Furthermore, the second finding’s opinions were relevant to the expert’s assessment of the gravity of the plaintiff’s condition. The plaintiff’s condition was central to the plaintiff’s argument.

The court further recognized the correctional medicine expert witness had treated patients with kidney stones in the ER. On the basis of his expertise in urology and professional experience, the expert could offer the fourth opinion. This opinion was further focused on the expert’s examination of the kidney stones at issue. The expert’s opinion was relevant to the issue of the severity of the claimant’s case. It was, therefore, admissible. The court excluded the fourth and fifth findings because they were minimally probative and misleading to the jury.

Ruling

The motion to exclude was granted in part and denied in part.

Key Takeaways for Experts

When offering findings on medical cases, experts should refrain from speculative opinions. In this case, the court excluded several of the expert’s findings because they were misleading to the jury. It’s important that medical experts rely on their background and education when forming opinions. Courts are more likely to exclude speculative opinions.

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