Sheeley v. Mem'l Hosp.

710 A.2d 161 (R.I. 1998)

 

RULE:

The appropriate standard of care to be utilized in any given procedure should not be compartmentalized by a physician's area of professional specialization or certification. On the contrary, the focus in any medical malpractice case should be the procedure performed and the question of whether it was executed in conformity with the recognized standard of care, the primary concern being whether the treatment was administered in a reasonable manner. Any doctor with knowledge of or familiarity with the procedure, acquired through experience, observation, association, or education, is competent to testify concerning the requisite standard of care and whether the care in any given case deviated from that standard. The resources available to a physician, his or her specific area of practice, or the length of time he or she has been practicing are all issues that should be considered by the trial justice in making his or her decision regarding the qualification of an expert. No one issue, however, should be determinative. Furthermore, except in extreme cases, a witness who has obtained board certification in a particular specialty related to the procedure in question, especially when that board certification reflects a national standard of training and qualification, should be presumptively qualified to render an opinion.

FACTS:

The patient delivered a healthy baby. During the birth the attending physician performed an episiotomy, and after the birth the physician sutured the incision. The patient developed a fistula that required more surgery, and she continued to suffer pain and discomfort. She filed a medical malpractice action against the physician, who was a second-year family practice resident, another physician and the hospital. At trial her expert witness was found to be a board-certified obstetrician who had not actually been in practice for a number of years. The expert's testimony was excluded, and because she could not find another expert, a directed verdict was entered against the patient. On appeal, the court held that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding the testimony, and that under R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-19-41 the patient's expert was qualified to present testimony. 

ISSUE:

Did the trial court err in excluding the testimony of patient's expert witness?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

The court held that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding the testimony, and that under R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-19-41 the patient's expert was qualified to present testimony. It did not matter that the expert was more qualified than the attending physician or had not been in practice in recent years; at issue was a medical procedure that had not changed in over 30 years. The court reversed and remanded for a new trial. It specifically abandoned the similar locality rule for experts.

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