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Federal Rule of Evidence 702 Standard of Care for Medical Experts Requires Sufficient, Supported, and Reliable Expert Testimony

January 13, 2023

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In the recent case of<em> <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/M.D.R.-by-Rivera-v.-Temple-University-Hospital.pdf">M.D.R. by Rivera v. Temple University Hospital</a></em>, The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania found that under Federal Rule of Evidence 702, for a plaintiff to prove that a hospital is liable for medical negligence, the plaintiff cannot merely provide expert testimony that shows a deviation from that expert’s subjective perception of the relevant standard of care. Rather, plaintiffs must provide sufficient and reliable expert testimony as to what the relevant standard of care actually is.

In <em>M.D.R.</em>, plaintiff, through her mother, sued Temple University Hospital (“TUH”), alleging medical malpractice resulting in a birth-related injury to her arm.  TUH moved for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiff’s experts’ opinions would be inadmissible at trial because they failed to satisfy the<em> Daubert </em>standard on reliability.

Plaintiff’s experts both opined that M.D.R.’s brachial plexus injury could only have occurred “as a direct result of the obstetrician's application of excessive “traction” on the baby's head and <strong><em>cannot</em></strong> be caused by the natural forces of labor.” Accordingly, the experts opined that the existence of a  brachial plexus injury was sufficient in proving that the nurses and obstetricians had breached the standard of care.  Plaintiff’s experts both reached this opinion however  without opining on what that applicable standard of care was in this situation.

The court found that plaintiff’s experts’ opinions assumed facts not in evidence and were directly contradictory to almost all current and available scientific literature on the subject, including literature cited by the experts themselves.  Moreover, the court found that as a matter of law, medical experts must establish, in a Daubert-satisfactory manner, what the standard of care is for a given case, and how that standard was or was not satisfied, as opposed to merely opining that the existence of a certain injury was sufficient proof to demonstrate the breach of an abstract and undefined standard of care.  As such the court deemed M.D.R.’s expert opinions unreliable and granted TUH’s motion for summary judgment.

<em>M.D.R. </em>is a victory for defendants in medical malpractice suits because it reinforces the role of judges as active gatekeepers in determining whether expert testimony is reliable and therefore admissible. The case therefore limits the ability of plaintiffs to use so-called expert testimony, not truly supported by the scientific community, to satisfy the expert requirement in medical malpractice suits

Thanks to Stephen Kerstein for his assistance with this post. Should you have any questions, please contact <a href="tbracken@wcmlaw.com">Tom Bracken</a>.

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