State Supreme Court Affirms Exclusion of Expert Testimony in Medical Malpractice Lawsuit, Failing Under Rules of Evidence

In this medical malpractice lawsuit, the state supreme court of Utah affirmed the decision of the court of appeals, which affirmed the judgment of the district court excluding the plaintiff’s proximate cause expert’s testimony. The state high court held that the district court did not err.

Richard and Deanne Taylor’s daughter, Ashley, was diagnosed at a young age with a neurological disorder that caused her to suffer from spasticity. To control this effect, Ashley received the medication Baclofen through a catheter and an implanted Baclofen pump that delivered it into the thecal sac around her spinal cord.

On April 17, 2013, Ashley woke up suffering from severe shaking in her legs. She saw a physician at the University of Utah Hospital where she received an oral dose of Baclofen. The physician did several tests, which gave Ashley more oral Baclofen and instructed her to return the next day. Although the following day’s tests did not show an obvious sign of a problem, the doctor thought there might still be a problem with the pump. During that time, Ashley kept vomiting and had difficulty keeping down oral doses of Baclofen. After further consultation, the doctor recommended surgery to replace the pump and the catheter connected to it. The surgery was performed the following day. Ashley’s sister later agreed with the statement that Ashley was “back to herself” a day after the surgery.

Two to three weeks later however, Ashley began exhibiting unusual behavioral symptoms. Ashley’s parents consulted Dr. Judith Gooch, who had been Ashley’s treating physician in the past. Dr. Gooch first concluded that Ashley suffered from Baclofen overdose and completely stopped the administration of the drug.

Later, Dr. Gooch concluded that Ashley’s change in behavior was due to Baclofen withdrawal – not an overdose as she had initially found. She further concluded that although Ashley had returned to a stable condition, she suffered, and still suffers, from permanent cognitive injuries.

The Taylors sued the hospital on Ashley’s behalf. They alleged that the hospital’s treatment of Ashley’s Baclofen withdrawal caused her permanent injuries. The Taylors retained Dr. Gooch as a causation expert.

The district court summarized Dr. Gooch’s proximate cause theory as follows: “Baclofen withdrawal caused a metabolic disturbance, which caused encephalopathy, which produced months-long hallucinations and other abnormal behavior, resulting in or causing permanent damage and cognitive function damage to Ashley.”

The heart of the case was that after Dr. Gooch was deposed, the hospital filed a motion in limine to exclude her testimony. The hospital defendant argued that the testimony “should be barred under Rule 702 … because Dr. Gooch’s opinion is not based upon sufficient facts or data.” In its motion, the hospital relied on Dr. Gooch’s concession in her deposition that “there is not a single reported case of Baclofen withdrawal in which the patient remains stable throughout the episode and went on to suffer permanent neurological injury.” That testimony was the principle reason that the doctor’s testimony was excluded and the motion in limine was granted.

The trial court agreed and excluded the testimony. At issue on appeal was whether the threshold showing that the principles or methods underlying in the expert’s testimony were based upon sufficient facts or data with a method – logical deduction – was based upon broad and attenuated facts.

The Utah Supreme Court held that the showing was not present in this case, and therefore, the district court properly excluded the expert testimony on proximate cause.

The Utah Rule of Evidence 702 is the virtually same as the Illinois Rules of Evidence as well as a the federal rules. The requirement includes “a threshold showing that the principles or methods that are underlying in the testimony … are based upon sufficient facts or data.”

In conclusion, the state Supreme Court found no error and consequently affirmed the finding of the trial court and appellate court.

Taylor v. University of Utah, 2020 UT 21 (May 8, 2020).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling medical malpractice lawsuits, hospital negligence cases, misdiagnosis lawsuits, and brain injury cases for individuals, families and loved ones who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Hinsdale, Geneva, River Grove, Rosemont, Highland Park, Highwood, Homewood, Vernon Hills, Wheeling, Chicago (River North, Old Town Triangle, Lincoln Square, Canaryville, Back of the Yards, Fuller Park, Oakland, South Shore, Little Italy, East Ukrainian Village, Sheffield Neighbors, North Center, Kelvyn Park, Belmont Gardens, Wicker Park), Countryside, Oak Lawn, Calumet City, Elgin, Hoffman Estates, Waukegan, Algonquin, Schiller Park, Carol Stream, Villa Park and Melrose Park, Ill.

Robert D. Kreisman has been an active member of the Illinois and Missouri bars since 1976.

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