Court: United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Terre Haute Division
Case Name: Jones v. United States
Citation: 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14382
The plaintiff brings this lawsuit against the government for its purported failure to maintain clean water within a correctional facility. The plaintiff says contaminated water led to a viral infection. Further, he says he received improper treatment for the infection.
The defendant’s gastroenterology expert opines on the treatment and finds the drugs used were appropriate. The expert also states he is unaware of evidence of this virus’s transmission by water in the U.S.
The plaintiff disputes both points. But the court says the plaintiff’s objections misconstrue the expert’s conclusions. In addition to the expert’s robust experience making his opinions admissible, the court dismisses the plaintiff’s claims over semantics.
The plaintiff was a federal inmate in the Special Housing Unit of a federal correctional institution. He brought this lawsuit against the United States, charging that the defendant was negligent in failing to maintain adequate water quality. This, the plaintiff claimed led to his contraction of the Helicobacter pylori virus. He brought his claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. They also retained a gastroenterology expert witness to support the motion. The plaintiff objected to the expert’s testimony.
The Defendant’s Gastroenterology Expert Witness
The defendant’s gastroenterology expert witness was a professor of gastroenterology and hepatology. He also served as Chief of Gastroenterology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, TN. The medical community considered this expert an H. pylori authority. The expert wrote articles on the subject and gave regular talks and lectures. He also co-authored the 2017 American College of Gastroenterology practice guidelines on the treatment of H. pylori.
The gastroenterology expert clarified that H. pylori infection is more common in childhood rather than adulthood. In particular, polluted water supplies may a role in the transmission of infection in developing countries. Nonetheless, the main risk factors for infection acquisition are low socioeconomic status and infected close relatives. In the United States, the expert was unaware of any evidence that H. pylori is spread to children by contaminated water. He explained that this method is even less common among adults.
The expert believed that the plaintiff most likely was already infected at the time of his incarceration. He stated the plaintiff displayed a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms. This included heartburn, dyspepsia, and chronic constipation. With the exception of dyspepsia, these conditions are not linked to H. pylori. The expert further clarified that H. pylori patients are typically asymptomatic.
The gastroenterology expert concluded that the plaintiff’s triple-drug regimen after positive H. pylori tests was acceptable. Further, the expert explained this medication treatment was in compliance with the relevant standard of care.
The plaintiff objected to two portions of the defendant’s expert’s testimony. Firstly, he disputed that H. pylori could not be transmitted by water. Secondly, he disputed the expert’s statement that his medical care was appropriate.
The court pointed out that the expert had not claimed H. pylori could not be transmitted via water. Rather, the expert had stated he did not know of any evidence of this occurring in the U.S. The court also stated the plaintiff misconstrued that expert’s statement on the appropriateness of the medical care. It explained the expert’s opinion related to the drugs administered—not the treatment as a whole. Further, the court explained that whether the plaintiff’s medical treatment was appropriate was a legal conclusion and not a fact.
Overall, the court noted that the gastroenterology expert witness’s testimony was based on his extensive education, training, and experience dealing with H. pylori infection. It concluded the testimony would aid the jury in determining the probable causation of the plaintiff’s infection. Additionally, the expert’s opinions were helpful to the trier of fact.
The court denied the plaintiff’s Daubert challenge against the defendant’s gastroenterology expert witness.
Key Takeaways for Experts
Here, the plaintiff makes broad challenges against the expert’s opinions. But the expert’s actual assertions are much more specific and detail-oriented—and valid in the eyes of the court. Experts shouldn’t shy from specifics in their testimony. These particulars are what made this expert’s opinions unshakeable against a Daubert challenge.