Evidence is only admissible if it is relevant. Md. R. Evid. 5-402. Impeachment evidence is relevant if it affects a witness's credibility. A trial court's exclusion of evidence based on lack of relevancy should not be disturbed unless the finding was an abuse of discretion.
Prior to cardiac surgery, Mr. Tuer experienced chest pain and was given Heparin to prevent a heart attack. The doctors and St. Joseph Hospital's (collectively, the appellees) standard practice at this time was to discontinue Heparin three to four hours prior to the surgery to reduce the risk of excessive bleeding associated with carotid artery punctures in bypass heart surgery. A doctor discontinued the medication prior to the surgery, however, the surgery was postponed for a few hours and the medication was not restarted. The patient died of a myocardial infarction after surgery. Mary C. Tuer, the wife of the deceased, filed a negligence action against the doctors and hospital. The circuit court dismissed the hospital as a defendant. On appeal, the court affirmed the judgment. Mrs. Tuer thereafter appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred by not admitting evidence that, subsequent to Mr. Tuer's death, the appellees changed their surgical procedures and halted their practice of discontinuing the drug Heparin to patients with Mr. Tuer's clinical condition prior to surgery. Specifically, Mrs. Tuer insisted that appellees' change in procedure, which qualifies as a subsequent remedial measure under Maryland Rule 5-407, was admissible to prove the feasibility of restarting Heparin, and as evidence to impeach the doctor appellee’s credibility.
Did the circuit court err in its decision not to admit certain evidences that could be in favor of Mrs. Tuer?
The Court held that evidence that the hospital changed its medical procedures and halted the practice of discontinuing Heparin prior to cardiac surgery was not admissible to show the feasibility of a subsequent remedial measure under Md. R. Evid. 5-407. According to the Court, the evidences were inadmissible because the feasibility of restarting Heparin was not contested, or for impeachment purposes, because mere contradictory testimony was insufficient. The Court concluded that rebuttal evidence on the puncture issue was inadmissible because it was not raised by the doctors.