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A doctor need not practice in the same community in order to be qualified to testify as an expert regarding the applicable standard of care. Rather, it is sufficient that the doctor practices in a "similar neighboring community." La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 9:2794 states that in a malpractice action based on the negligence of a non-specialist physician, the plaintiff has the burden of proving, among other elements, the degree of care ordinarily exercised by physicians in a similar community or locale and under similar circumstances.
Plaintiff, Jaqueline Dore Leyva, is a deaf-mute. Mrs. Leyva also has retinosa pigmentosa which has caused her eyesight to deteriorate. Chiefly, because of her physical condition, she chose to become sterile by having a lateral tubal litigation after the birth of her second child. Immediately after delivery, Dr. G.D. Sagrera performed the bilateral tubal ligation. As a part of the procedure Dr. Sagrera was to remove a small part of each fallopian tube in order to verify, in part at least, that the operation had been performed properly. Dr. Emil Laga, a pathologist, examined the specimens. He testified that he was unable to identify the sample labelled "left fallopian tube" as part of a fallopian tube. Dr. Laga's supervisor, Dr. J.B. Pecot, also examined the specimens, and he too was unable to find any fallopian tube tissue in the left side specimen. About six weeks later, on April 4, 1986, a second surgical procedure was performed - called a laparotomy - in order to learn whether the left tube had been properly ligated during the first procedure, and should it be found that it had not been, to ligate the tube during this second procedure. Dr. Sagrera testified that in this second operation, he examined both tubes and concluded that they had been properly ligated in the first operation. No verification sample tissues were taken during this second procedure. Dr. Sagrera concluded that it was unnecessary to take such samples, and he wanted to avoid causing the patient any additional pain. Mrs. Leyva urged that the failure to obtain samples in this second procedure was a breach of the acceptable standard for performing this exploratory procedure. Thereafter, Mrs. Leyva underwent a third surgical procedure, an appendectomy. In a fourth operation, she had a cyst removed from an ovary. She filed this medical malpractice claim to recover damages arising from the second, third and fourth procedures. She alleged that because of the physician's negligence, she needlessly underwent subsequent surgeries. At the trial Mrs. Leyva called Dr. Jack Pruitt, an obstetrician/gynecologist practicing in Lake Jackson, Texas. Dr. Pruitt was tendered as an expert in obstetrics, including obstetrical surgery. Counsel for Dr. Sagrera objected on the grounds that Dr. Pruitt did not practice medicine in a locale similar to New Iberia, Louisiana, and that Dr. Pruitt is a specialist in obstetrics while Dr. Sagrera is only a general practitioner. After hearing arguments from both sides, outside the presence of the jury, the court barred Dr. Pruitt's testimony for the reason that Dr. Pruitt did not practice in a neighboring or similar community to New Iberia, Louisiana. This excluded testimony was nonetheless proffered. Later, without the benefit of Plaintiff's expert's testimony, the jury found Dr. Sagrera not negligent in his treatment of Mrs. Leyva. The jury trial resulted in judgment in favor of the physician. Mrs. Leyva contended that the district court and the court of appeal had erroneously applied the law in barring the testimony by the patient's expert witness.
Did the trial court err in barring Dr. Pruitt’s testimony under La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 9:2794 because the expert did not practice in a neighboring or similar community?
The court reversed and held that the courts below had erred in excluding the testimony of Dr. Pruitt, whose proffered testimony indicated that he would have testified regarding the nationally applicable standard of care for performing a certain procedure, which was the same surgical procedure that the patient underwent. The trial court barred Dr. Pruitt’s testimony under La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 9:2794 because the expert did not practice in a neighboring or similar community. The court held such to be the wrong test. Where there was a uniform nationwide method for performing a particular medical procedure, an expert with knowledge of such method was qualified to testify. The expert was not constrained by the need to have practiced in a similar community or locale and under similar circumstances.