ILNews

Court upholds damages award against doctor

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a damages award to the parents of a stillborn child against a doctor, finding the trial court properly excluded opinion testimony from two treating doctors and a letter written to those doctors before the trial by the parents' attorney.

In Jeffrey L. Cain, M.D. v. Richard Back and Suzette Back, No. 20A03-0705-CV-225, Dr. Jeffrey L. Cain appealed the trial court judgment of $800,000 in damages to Richard and Suzette Back on their claim of medical malpractice.

The Backs' daughter was stillborn at 29 1/2 weeks after Suzette was transferred by Cain from Elkhart General Hospital to South Bend Memorial Hospital. Cain and Dr. Starla Graber at Elkhart determined the baby had a low fetal heartbeat and there was a possible abdominal wall defect. Dr. Maria Evangelista at South Bend agreed to accept Suzette. Evangelista induced labor and the child was stillborn.

The Backs filed a complaint against Cain, alleging damages as a result of their daughter's death because Cain should have performed a Caesarean section instead of transferring her to the other hospital.

Cain had Evangelista and Garber testify at trial that he followed proper procedure and his decision to transfer Suzette was reasonable given the circumstances, but the trial court excluded the opinion testimony of the doctors.

Indiana Evidence Trial Rule 701 pertains to the admissibility of lay opinion testimony, which doesn't specify pretrial disclosure requirements. Under Ind. Evid. T.R. 702, expert opinion testimony is subject to pretrial disclosure requirements.

The trial court found and the Court of Appeals agreed that testimony from Evangelista regarding the knowledge of applicable standard of care is based on the expert knowledge she has as a doctor. Evangelista was not disclosed as a Rule 702 expert witness before the trial, and therefore, her opinion testimony should have been excluded, wrote Judge Margret Robb.

The trial court was also within its discretion to exclude Graber's testimony, which also provided opinion testimony considered to be made by an expert.

Cain also appealed the trial court decision to exclude letters written to Evangelista and Graber by the Backs' attorney one month before the trial began. Cain claims the letters, which told the doctors they weren't allowed to testify adversely to Suzette's positions because of the doctor/client relationship and that they had to contact the Backs' attorney before discussing their trial testimony, were an attempt to influence the doctors' testimony.

After reviewing caselaw regarding intimidating messages before a medical malpractice trial, the appellate judges determined the letters weren't intended to improperly influence the doctors' testimony but to let them know not to discuss the case with Cain's attorneys outside the presence of the Backs' counsel, wrote Judge Robb.
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  1. A sad end to a prolific gadfly. Indiana has suffered a great loss in the journalistic realm.

  2. Good riddance to this dangerous activist judge

  3. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  4. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  5. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

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