Pennsylvania Court Affirms Judgment Excluding Expert Testimony in Medical Malpractice Case
In a case involving medical malpractice, the Pennsylvania Superior Court determined whether the trial court abused its discretion by precluding the defendant doctor from offering expert witness testimony in the field of radiology. At issue was whether the doctor held sufficient qualifications and expertise, beyond what is considered ordinary.
Dr. Andrew Albert, an anesthesiologist, administered anesthesia to Pauline Abramowich at the Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, while she underwent a scheduled surgery (laparoscopic cholecystectomy). Mr. and Mrs. Abramowich claimed that Dr. Albert negligently intubated Mrs. Abramowich, resulting in a one-centimeter esophageal laceration that required a secondary surgical procedure and further hospitalization and treatment.
The Abramowiches brought this lawsuit against Dr. Albert, and Dr. Albert intended to testify as an expert in anesthesiology. An expert diagnostic radiologist, Dr. Robert Hurwitz, provided testimony relating to diagnostic imaging and its impact on the Abramowiches’ theory of liability.
Shortly before trial, Dr. Albert stated he also intended to testify on his own behalf, regarding diagnostic radiology issues. The Abramowiches filed a motion in limine to exclude Dr. Albert’s expert testimony on the ground that he was not qualified to testify as a diagnostic radiologist, and that his testimony would be cumulative of Dr. Hurwitz’s testimony. After a hearing, the trial court granted the Abramowiches’ motion, and the matter proceeded to a jury trial.
A jury returned a verdict of $60,000 for Mrs. Abramowich and $40,000 for her husband. Dr. Albert filed a motion for post-trial relief on the ground that the court erred in prohibiting his testimony about specific radiology studies concerning Mrs. Abramowich. He claimed that it impeded his ability to defend allegations against him.
The trial court denied Dr. Albert’s motion on the ground that he did not possess the required common-law medical expertise in radiology, and his testimony would have been cumulative of Dr. Hurwitz’s testimony. Dr. Albert appealed.
In his appeal, Dr. Albert claimed he was qualified to testify as an expert witness pursuant to the common-law standard. The court stated that generally the test is whether the witness has specialized knowledge on the subject matter. Turning to the trial court’s findings, the question was whether Dr. Albert had more expertise than someone in the ordinary range of training, intelligence, knowledge, or experience. The trial court found Dr. Albert did not. While he had some experience in radiology, he did not have more than what is considered ordinary.
But the court stated that, other than expressing his familiarity with the radiology necessary to perform his services, he had not shown a pretension to specialized knowledge on radiology. He had not shown he has experience interpreting and analyzing images, as applied to cases like Mrs. Abramowich’s surgery.
Regarding the finding that his testimony would have been cumulative of Dr. Hurwitz, Dr. Albert alleged that it would strengthen or bolster existing evidence. The court turned to Pennsylvania Rule of Evidence 403, which states the court may exclude relevant evidence if the probative value is outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Here, Dr. Albert failed to explain how his evidence would strengthen or bolster existing evidence. The court stated that Dr. Albert’s and Dr. Hurwitz’s theories of causation were substantially similar.
The appellate court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding Dr. Albert’s radiology testimony as cumulative. The judgment was affirmed.