Family Medicine Expert Testifies on Prisoner’s Death But Faces Challenge for Lacking Correctional Experience

    Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee
    Jurisdiction: Federal
    Case Name: Davis v. Roane County
    Citation: 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150286

    Facts

    The plaintiff, now deceased, was incarcerated at the defendant county jail when she required medical attention. The jail had partnered with a private health provider to administer prisoner treatment, including treatment of the plaintiff. However, several days following her treatment, the plaintiff was discovered unresponsive in her cell. She was pronounced dead at the county medical center later that day. In charges filed on behalf of the deceased, the plaintiffs claimed the county jail and private health service had violated her constitutional rights in how her medical care was carried out. To support their case, the plaintiffs retained a family medicine expert witness.

    The Family Medicine Expert Witness

    The family medicine expert witness received her medical degree from Louisiana State University and was board-certified in family medicine. She had not directly treated the deceased but reviewed the relevant case documents. The expert’s opinion contained two main points. First, she opined that considering the deceased’s medical history, she should have undergone more testing. The family medicine expert witness also suggested there were “multiple” occasions where the deceased’s symptoms were severe enough to warrant additional medical attention and concluded some of the treatment given was beneath the standard of care. Overall, the expert concluded that the deceased’s health worsened while in prison and was undertreated. She opined that the deceased should have been transferred from the county jail’s care and that a doctor should have been consulted about her medical problems.

    The defendants responded, arguing that though the expert had qualifications in family medicine, she did not hold any prison healthcare certifications. The defendants also contended that the expert did not understand how that specific jail administered healthcare. Furthermore, the defendants argued that the expert had no expertise to help the jury decide whether the deceased’s constitutional rights were violated. The defendants asserted that the expert’s opinions that the county or its officers had directly or indirectly caused the deceased’s death should be excluded.

    The plaintiffs replied that the fact that the family medicine expert witness had never served as a doctor in a prison environment affected the weight of her testimony, not its admissibility.  Furthermore, the plaintiffs contended that the expert’s opinions contributed to the overall medical analysis of the deceased’s health decline and her incarceration should not change these professional health opinions.

    Discussion

    The court stated that the defendants’ opposition to the expert’s testimony was not well-taken. The court decided that the family medicine expert was qualified to testify about the treatment she believed should have been administered to the deceased. The court also concluded that the expert had ample medical expertise to offer these opinions. The court found that the expert’s opinions were not legal conclusions, however, she was excluded from testifying that the defendants had been deliberately indifferent towards the deceased’s condition.

    The court further noted that the fact the expert did not practice medicine in a jail setting affected the weight of her testimony. The court stated that the defendants gave no basis to believe whether the expert planned to testify about liability and causation—and these hypothetical concerns were dismissed.

    Held

    The defendants’ motion to exclude the family medicine expert witness was granted in part and denied in part. The expert was permitted to testify about the medical care provided to the deceased, but not on the defendants’ alleged deliberate indifference.