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. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.