Paulette Elher filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Dwijen Misra Jr. M.D., seeking damages alleging that Dr. Misra accidentally clipped her common bile duct while performing a laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Elher wanted to have the court admit expert testimony where it would be stated that clipping a patient’s common bile duct during an otherwise uncomplicated laparoscopic cholecystectomy was a breach of the standard of care. She also claimed that negligence could be inferred from the improperly clipped bile duct under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.
The defendants in this case moved to exclude Elher’s proposed expert’s testimony on the ground that, because it was not supported by peer-reviewed literature or the opinions of other physicians, it did not meet the standards for reliability under the Rules of Evidence Section 702. Rule 702 is the rule of evidence regarding testimony by experts. The rule is in place to assist the jury or court in understanding scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge and to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue. A witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise.
The court of appeals in Michigan held that the trial judge had abused its discretion by incorrectly applying Rule 702 to exclude the testimony of plaintiff’s expert witness because the factors that the trial court considered were not relevant to the expert’s testimony, which did not involve an unsound scientific methodology or questionable data. Rather, the majority concluded that injuring the common bile duct violated the applicable standard of care called for a value judgment derived from training and experience. The majority agreed, however, with the trial court that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur did not apply to plaintiff’s claim. The dissent agreed with the majority’s analysis of the res ipsa loquitur issue but concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding the testimony of plaintiff’s expert regarding the standard of care because no basis had been offered for the testimony apart from the expert’s own personal views. The defendants sought leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court.