Court: United States District Court for the District of New Mexico
Case Name: Jager v. Andrade-Barraza
Citation: 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 217396
This case involves a prison fight and resulting prisoner injury. The plaintiff was punched in the face by a fellow inmate and then sent to the hospital for a facial x-ray. The x-ray revealed a separation between facial bones, and a CT scan was recommended. Upon reviewing the scan, a surgical specialist suggested remedial surgery. This would involve either refracturing the bones or placing an implant, both of which carried risks of complications. The plaintiff refused to undergo surgery and later filed a suit against the prison, alleging it failed to adequately treat his facial injuries. In his suit, the plaintiff claimed resulting disfigurement, pain, and loss of opportunity for a better outcome. The plaintiff retained two correctional medicine expert witnesses to support his case.
Correctional Medicine Expert Witnesses
The correctional medicine expert witnesses were both physicians. One expert practiced as an emergency medicine specialist and the second was a plastic surgeon who was also an ENT specialist. They were retained to opine on the standard of care in correctional medicine (medical treatment provided to inmates by a prison).
The defendants challenged the experts’ admissibility. The defendant argued that correctional medicine is a recognized medical specialty in its own right. They further argued that simply having a medical degree was insufficient to establish expertise in this specialized field. The defendant claimed that since the plaintiff’s experts did not specialize in correctional medicine, they did not qualify as experts in this case, even though although they both had expertise in the treatment of prisoners.
The court explained that the caselaw referenced by the defendant did not support their argument. Their motion to strike the experts’ testimony was not structured under Rule 702 nor did it make any reference to Rule 702. The court cited Gayton v. McCoy to assert that expert credentials are not categorical: rather, the court would consider the opinions of the witness separately in order to determine whether they had the appropriate training, expertise and training to reach those conclusions.
The court also rejected the defendants’ argument that the opinions of the experts did not provide any explanation for the treatment provided in a prison clinic. The court noted that not every aspect of a case needs to be fully addressed by expert reports. On the contrary, they need and should address just those topics on which the witness can give an expert opinion.
The court recognized that one expert specialized in emergency medicine and the other was an ENT specialist and a facial plastic surgeon. The court found both of these areas to be clearly related to the injury suffered by the plaintiff. The court asserted that the plaintiff’s injury “fall[s] within the reasonable confines of [their] expertise,” quoting Siegel v. Blue Giant Equip. Corp. The court concluded that their testimony would assist the trier of fact and was therefore admitted.
The defendants’ motion to disqualify the plaintiff’s correctional medicine expert witnesses was denied.