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Law School Case Brief

President & Dirs. of Georgetown Coll. v. Wheeler - 75 A.3d 280 (D.C. 2013)

Rule:

For purposes of admitting or excluding expert testimony, the third requirement that expert testimony is inadmissible if the state of the pertinent art or scientific knowledge does not permit a reasonable opinion to be asserted even by an expert focuses not on the acceptance of a particular conclusion derived from the methodology, but rather on the acceptance of the methodology itself. Satisfaction of the third criterion begins - and ends - with a determination of whether there is general acceptance of a particular scientific methodology, not an acceptance, beyond that, of particular study results based on that methodology. 

Facts:

This is an appeal by a hospital and a physician from a large judgment against them in a medical malpractice case. Appellee Crystal Wheeler suffered various medical complications as the result of a Rathke's cleft cyst behind her left eye, which went undetected for nearly ten years despite its appearance on a 1996 MRI report. Wheeler brought a medical-malpractice suit against the appellants, Marilyn McPherson-Corder, M.D., and the President and Directors of Georgetown College, claiming that their negligence caused the cyst to go undiscovered. Following a lengthy trial, a jury awarded Wheeler more than $2.5 million in damages. Dr. McPherson-Corder and Georgetown appealed.

Issue:

(a) Did the defendant waive its objection to any alleged inconsistency in a general verdict, with or without interrogatories, when it failed to object before the jury's discharge?; and (b) Did the trial court err when it permitted Wheeler's expert witnesses to testify that there was a causal link between her Rathke's cleft cyst and her gastroparesis? 

Answer:

(a) Yes; (b) No

Conclusion:

(a) Accordingly, because the verdict was not special, it was either a standard general verdict or a Rule 49 (b) general verdict with interrogatories. To preserve  an objection to an alleged inconsistency in either of these types, a party must raise the argument before the jury is discharged. Here, appellants failed to do so. Accordingly, they waived their objection to any inconsistency in the verdict; (b) The appellants challenge Wheeler's experts' "conclusions," not their methodology. This challenge fails, because it focused on the wrong question. At trial, Wheeler's experts testified that they based their conclusions on case studies and medical literature, which listed endocrine conditions like hypothyroidism as a cause of gastroparesis. The appellants contested these conclusions during trial, and do so again on appeal. But they have offered no argument that reliance on relevant medical literature, which according to at least one expert dates back to the 1970s, as well as case studies appearing in that literature, is  not a "generally accepted" method for forming an opinion regarding medical causation. 

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