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Nurses may be expert witnesses in some standard of care disputes

August 15, 2012

The Indiana Court of Appeals declined Wednesday to create a blanket rule that nurses cannot qualify as expert witnesses under the Indiana Evidence Rule and testify as to whether a health care provider breached a standard of care or whether an alleged breach caused an injury.

The decision came in a wrongful death, breach of contract and negligent infliction of emotional distress claim filed by Michael Curts. Curts’ elderly mother lived in Miller’s Merry Manor nursing home to receive care following a stroke. She had a history of falling and of getting out of bed while waiting for nurses to help her to use the bathroom. On May 7, 2006, staff found her lying face down on the floor in a large amount of blood. Curts happened to arrive at the room during this incident and saw his mother on the floor. She died the next day in the hospital.

He sought to have Theresa Weitkamp, a nurse and nursing home administrator, testify as an expert witness. She concluded that Miller’s Merry Manor deviated from commonly accepted standards of care and regulations.  

A medical review panel of three doctors determined the evidence didn’t support that the nursing home failed to meet the appropriate standard of care and its conduct wasn’t a factor of the resultant damages. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the nursing home.

The appellate court reviewed caselaw in which nurses have been found unable to testify as expert witnesses regarding medical causation and medical standards. In those cases, the medical causation issues were complex, but in the instant case, the question is whether Miller’s Merry Manor failed to meet its standard of care and whether the injuries from the fall caused the woman’s death.

“In a scenario such as this, we cannot foreclose the possibility that some nurses have sufficient expertise to qualify as an expert witness,” Chief Judge Margret Robb wrote.

But Curts didn’t present sufficient evidence of Weitkamp’s expertise for the court to conclude that she qualifies as an expert witness. In addition, the judges found Curts failed to meet his burden of establishing a genuine issue of material fact.

 

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