Immunology Expert’s Contradicting Opinions Are Grounds for Exclusion

    Court: United States Court of Federal Claims
    Jurisdiction: Federal
    Case Name: Jagoe v. Sec’y of the HHS
    Citation: 2012 U.S. Claims LEXIS 2246

    In this case, the plaintiff contends her son developed a neurological disorder after immunizations. The plaintiff’s immunology expert witness was a highly qualified physician, however, her testimony here was revealed to be in direct contrast with opinions in a previous, very similar case. When the court asked the expert to reconcile these opinions, she could not. Thus, her testimony was not admitted.

    Facts

    This case was filed after the plaintiff’s son, a minor, suffered brain damage allegedly caused by five immunizations. After the vaccinations, the child was diagnosed with transverse myelitis—inflammation on both sides of one part of the spinal cord impacting signals that the spinal cord nerves transmit across the body. The plaintiff retained an immunology expert witness to support her assertion. The expert’s testimony was contested by the defendant.

    The Plaintiff’s Immunology Expert Witness

    The plaintiff’s immunology expert witness was a board-certified internal medicine specialist and held a Ph.D. in immunology. She also specialized in medical toxicology and conducted clinical work on tumor and cancer immunology, immunodermatology, autoimmune and allergy disorders, bone marrow transplantation, HIV, and immunotoxicology, and pharmacotoxicology. The expert was asked to review the evidence to form an opinion about the amount of time that elapsed between the administration of the vaccinations and the transverse myelitis symptoms appearing in the plaintiff’s son. The expert concluded that the vaccines had triggered the transverse myelitis in the child, not his adaptive immune system.

    This case was filed in conjunction with another somewhat similar case involving the same law plaintiff firm and the same experts. In both cases, the immunology expert offered an opinion on immunology and the issue of correct medical timing, but these were inconsistent. In the other case, the immunologist argued that 96 hours was the minimum amount of time required to show signs of the disease unless different causes were present. However, in this case, the same immunologist argued that 36 hours was sufficient time for the child to experience myelitis symptoms. The immunologist’s previous study does not reliably define any causes that would trigger the development of transverse myelitis symptoms in less than 96 hours. Besides offering a contradictory opinion in the second case, the immunologist’s testimony was clearly at odds with the medical records and the research cited.

    Discussion

    The court noted that the expert discussed the child’s fever after the vaccine, without accepting or mentioning the treating physician’s statement that the fever was possibly due to a viral illness. The expert’s opinion also contrasted with the plaintiff’s own neurology expert witness who testified that the child’s first MRI was normal and the changes had been observed many days later in a follow-up MRI.

    Finally, and most notably, the medical consensus, in this case, accepted the initiation of symptom development at 36 hours post-vaccination. This was in contrast with the evidence she gave in the second case. The expert, when ordered to reconcile this knowledge, failed to do so. On the grounds of these issues, the court did not find the expert’s analysis reliable or persuasive when evaluating the body of evidence as a whole and instead gave practically no weight to her testimony.

    Held

    The defendant’s motion to exclude the immunology expert witness’s testimony was granted.

    Key Takeaways for Experts

    This case demonstrates the necessity of consistent, research-backed expert testimony. Here, the expert was not able to explain with research or science why her conclusions had changed case-to-case and, therefore, was not permitted to testify.