Neurosurgery Expert is Unqualified to Opine on Neuro-otolaryngology Standard of Care

    Court: Supreme Court of Mississippi
    Jurisdiction: Federal
    Case Name: Troupe v. McAuley
    Citation: 2007 Miss. LEXIS 348

    Facts

    The plaintiff underwent surgery to remove a benign tumor in her left middle ear, performed by the defendant, a neuro-otolaryngologist (an ENT specialist focusing on neurology). During surgery, the defendant made contact with what he thought was the tumor but was actually a double anomalous carotid artery. This caused a rupture that the defendant could not stitch, so instead, he stopped the bleeding with surgical packing. The plaintiff was then transferred to another hospital to undergo treatment by an interventional radiologist. After her treatment, the plaintiff was sent to a rehabilitation center for therapy. Here, she developed a movement disorder that doctors concluded was not due to her previous surgery, but rather, a psychological issue. Nevertheless, the plaintiff filed a medical malpractice suit. The plaintiff retained a neurosurgery expert witness to support her case. Upon the trial court’s refusal to accept the expert witness, the plaintiff appealed to the state’s supreme court.

    Neurosurgery Expert Witness

    The neurosurgery expert was a physician, a neurosurgeon, and a lawyer. He was board certified in neurosurgery and actively continuing his medical education, though not currently practicing as a neurosurgeon. He also had a law degree from Wake Forest University. In preparation to testify, the expert reviewed the plaintiff’s medical records from the medical center and the hospital where she was treated. The expert testified that the standard of care had been breached by not ruling out the presence of an aneurism or an aberrant artery during surgery and that this breach had led to the plaintiff’s movement disorder. The plaintiff’s counsel had urged the trial judge to consider the expert as an expert in neurosurgery rather than otolaryngology or neuro-otolaryngology.

    Discussion

    The trial court decided the neurosurgery expert was not qualified to testify in this case solely because he had not defined, on the basis of experience or otherwise, that he understood the standard of care. Therefore, he couldn’t reliably argue how the standard had been broken.

    The court explained that the expert was qualified as a neurosurgeon, however, he had never performed middle ear surgery. The defendant surgeon was a neuro-otolaryngologist, thus, the neurosurgery expert could not provide accurate insight on the required standard of care of the patient in this scenario. The trial court found the expert’s testimony to be inadmissible and unable to show a causal link between the movement disorder and the surgery.

    Upon the plaintiff’s appeal, the state supreme court affirmed that the circuit court had not erred in refusing to accept the expert’s testimony on the standard of care applicable to the defendant neuro-otolaryngologist under Miss. R. Evid. 702. They explained that the expert was a neurosurgeon without experience with middle ear surgery, whereas, the defendant was a neuro-otolaryngologist doing middle ear surgery. As a result, the expert was unable to provide insight into the required standard of care.

    Held

    The state supreme court upheld the trial court’s decision to exclude the neurosurgery expert’s testimony.