Defendants Question Pediatric Surgery Expert Witness’s Reliance on Another Expert’s Report

A child who suffered from a severe neck wound passed away after receiving several medical procedures. The plaintiffs, the parents of the deceased, claimed the defendant doctors’ negligence caused their son’s death. They hired a forensic expert witness to perform an autopsy and a pediatric surgery expert witness to opine on what the trauma surgeon could have done. 

    Wendy Ketner, M.D.

    Written by
    — Updated on September 8, 2021

    Defendants Question Pediatric Surgery Expert Witness’s Reliance on Another Expert’s Report

    Court: United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, Western Division
    Jurisdiction: Federal
    Case Name: Hensley v. Methodist Healthcare Memphis Hosps.
    Citation: 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 64518

    However, the defendants argued the pediatric surgery expert was unqualified on pediatric surgery. They further claimed the pediatric surgery expert’s testimony was unreliable because she based her opinions on the forensic expert’s findings.

    Because the forensic expert’s findings were admissible, the court held that the defendants’ claim was speculative.

    Facts

    The plaintiff found his 11-year-old boy half-conscious, with a slight puncture on the right side of his neck. The plaintiff then hastened him to the hospital. Upon entry, the boy was in extreme respiratory distress. He was intubated and transported to a children’s hospital for intensive treatment. The CT scan did not indicate severe damage to the neck blood vessels. As such, the boy’s doctors deemed the puncture wound trivial. The doctors moved the boy to the intensive care unit, but his lung capacity continued to deteriorate. Physicians then agreed to put the patient on a cardiac bypass. The physicians also inserted a catheter through the boy’s abdominal aorta into the leg. The cancelation was unsuccessful, and the boy passed away.

    The cause of death was central to this case. The plaintiffs argued that the defendant treating doctors had been negligent in handling the patient. The plaintiffs further claimed their negligence caused his death. No one conducted an autopsy on the day of the boy’s death. Two weeks after his burial, the boy’s parents were forced to have the body disinterred for a private autopsy by their forensic expert witness.

    The Plaintiffs’ Pediatric Surgery Expert Witness

    The defendants tried to exclude the opinions of the pediatric trauma surgery expert. They asserted that she relied on the results of the autopsy conducted by a forensic expert. The defendants claimed the forensic expert was unreliable. The defendants argued the expert shared an unsubstantiated final opinion. The expert witness opined that if the trauma surgeon had requested the abdominal CT scan, the victim would have survived. The defendants contend that, since the expert was not a pediatric surgeon, she was unable to draw that inference.

    The pediatric surgery expert witness testified that she was an academician in a children’s hospital. Her responsibilities included operating an intensive care unit, training residents, and educating nursing students at a children’s hospital in Virginia. She conservatively reported that she treated more than 1,000 patients annually for pediatric illnesses and trauma issues.

    Ruling

    The court observed that, for reasons of reliability, relevance, and qualification, the autopsy report of the forensic expert was admissible. Furthermore, the court rejected the argument to exclude the pediatric surgery expert witness’s testimony for relying on the forensic expert’s opinions. The defendants’ motion did not explain what made the expert unqualified. Thus, whether the expert was qualified to provide the particular view was to be decided at the trial. The defendants had made a conclusory point that the expert’s view was pure speculation. The court noted that the defendants had not demonstrated that the opinion was unreliable or speculative. Rather, the defendants relied on their earlier claim that the autopsy report of the forensic expert was unreliable.

    Held

    The motion to exclude the testimony of the pediatric surgery expert witness was denied.

    Key Takeaways for Experts

    If you’re an expert physician performing an autopsy, be sure to be very thorough in your methodology and approach. On the other hand, if you’re basing your testimony on another physician’s autopsy, be sure to collaborate and discuss findings together before forming your conclusions. In this case, the pediatric surgery expert witness didn’t have the ability to examine the patient directly. The only information available to make claims was the autopsy report and the patient’s medical records. It’s important for expert physicians to be very detailed in their methodologies, especially if another expert is basing their opinion on it. It’s also essential that experts collaborate prior to coming to a conclusion.

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