Appellate Court Affirms Exclusion of Plaintiff’s Medical Expert Testimony Based on Lack of Certainty

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of the State of Montana decided a case that illustrates how courts view expert testimony in personal injury cases. While the case arose under Montana law, the laws applied in the case are similar to those in Maryland, and Maryland accident victims should be on notice that a similar issue may arise in their case.

gavel-1238036Cleveland v. Ward:  The Facts of the Case

The facts giving rise to the appeal are quite simple. The plaintiff was stopped at an intersection when the defendant rear-ended her. The impact from the collision pushed the plaintiff’s vehicle into the intersection and totaled her car. The defendant admitted that she was negligent in rear-ending the plaintiff’s car, and the plaintiff filed a lawsuit seeking monetary compensation for her injuries, including amounts for “damages for emotional distress, past medical costs, and business loss/lost income.” One of the specific injuries the plaintiff was seeking compensation for was a torn rotator cuff.

As a part of the discovery process, the defendants were given the opportunity to interview the plaintiff’s treating physician, Dr. Steele, in what is called a deposition. A deposition is a formal, out-of-court, interview whereby both parties are present and can ask a witness questions pertaining to the case. In his deposition, Dr. Steele explained that he could not say that the accident “more likely than not” was what caused the rotator-cuff tear.

Similarly, the plaintiff’s physical therapist, Anne Ripley, was deposed. Mrs. Ripley stated, “I can’t say that the accident caused the rotator cuff tear. But I can say function was normal before the accident and after the accident she had all of this change.”

The Court Requires “a Reasonable Degree of Medical Certainty” Before an Expert Can Testify

Ultimately, the court prevented both of the experts from testifying in front of the jury. The court explained that when a plaintiff wants to call a medical expert to testify to their injuries, the expert’s opinion must be to a “reasonable degree of medical certainty.” In this case, the court determined that Dr. Steele’s testimony was not even clear as to whether he thought the accident “more likely than not” caused the tear in plaintiff’s rotator cuff. Similarly, the court explained that Mrs. Ripley’s statement that the plaintiff did not have a tear before the accident and did afterward was not sufficient to rise to the level of a “reasonable degree of medical certainty.” The court also noted that a physical therapist’s testimony may not ever meet that requirement, although that specific issue was not conclusively decided.

Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been involved in a Maryland car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. As you can see from the above discussion, however, proving injuries is not always as simple as having your treating physician testify. There are often procedural obstacles that must be overcome. To discuss your case with a dedicated Maryland personal injury attorney, call 410-6544-3600 today to set up a free consultation with one of the lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, a renowned personal injury law firm handling cases in Maryland and Washington, D.C.

More Blog Posts:

Car Accident Victim’s Failure to Submit Evidence of Negligence Results in Dismissal of Case, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published January 5, 2016.

Plaintiff Sanctioned by Court for Bringing Claim for Punitive Damages Without Basis, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published January 19, 2016.

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