The Battle of the Experts - Medical Malpractice Cases

The admissibility of expert testimony is often a hot topic in any personal injury or medical malpractice case. With respect to medical malpractice cases, expert testimony is often at the center of every evidentiary dispute. Indeed, that is why malpractice cases are often referred to as “The Battle of the Experts.”

While the Federal Courts do not see a lot of malpractice cases, an interesting decision was recently issued by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The case, Creekmore v. Maryview Hospital, involved a woman who suffered a stroke and other injuries shortly after giving birth via cesarean section.

The care at issue involved only a postpartum nurse who was responsible for monitoring the Plaintiff, Mrs. Creekmore. The allegations were that the nurse negligently failed to monitor and report to the necessary health care providers important findings indicating that the Plaintiff had gone into hypovolemic shock, which is a common complication for women in the post-partum period who have delivered by cesarean section secondary to pre-eclampsia or high blood pressure (as was the case with Mrs. Creekmore).

During a bench trial, the Plaintiffs adduced expert testimony from an obstetrician/gynecologist – Richard Stokes, M.D. Dr. Stokes testified that the post-partum obstetrical nurses deviated from standards of care by not appreciating and acting on the Plaintiff’s low blood pressure and elevated heart rate. At the conclusion of the case, the Court found the hospital negligent through the acts and omissions of the post-partum nurse, and awarded Mrs. Creekmore $900,000.00 in damages.

On appeal, invoking a Virginia statute regarding standard of care testimony in medical malpractice cases, the defense argued that Dr. Stokes was not qualified to testify against the nurse because he was not a nurse himself. The appellate court strongly disagreed with this argument and found that Dr. Stokes was qualified to testify against the nurse. The court stated, “It is undisputed that Dr. Stokes regularly performs the procedure at issue – the postpartum monitoring of high-risk patients with preeclampsia—and ‘the standard of care performing the procedure is the same’ [between a nurse and an obstetrician in that setting].

I believe we would see the same result under the Maryland Health Claims Act if the Maryland Court of Special Appeals or Maryland Court of Appeals decided this issue. Obstetricians are intimately familiar with roles and responsibilities of obstetrical nurses, and work and hand-in-hand with obstetrical nurses on a daily basis. Thus, I would find it surprising if an obstetrician was ever disqualified for testifying against a nurse in any sort of obstetrical malpractice case. The Creekmore decision solidifies this argument.

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