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Court addresses use of epidemiological evidence in med mal cases

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The Indiana Court of Appeals held that the trial court ruled correctly when it did not allow certain epidemiological evidence by a plaintiff’s expert witness in a medical malpractice lawsuit, but the court stopped short of saying this type of evidence could never be admitted in a medical malpractice case.

Ashley Tucker filed a medical malpractice complaint against Dr. Michelle Harrison, alleging the doctor’s negligence in performing a surgical procedure damaged her ovaries and left her infertile. The jury ruled in favor of Harrison, and Tucker appealed on three grounds. She claimed the trial court abused its discretion in excluding testimony from her expert witness, epidemiologist Dr. Michael Freeman, Ph.D.; in denying Tucker the opportunity to question witnesses about possible financial bias; and in refusing to give the jury a res ipsa loquitur instruction.

Freeman described his profession as dealing with populations of people and the kind of injuries or diseases they get and what causes them, and doing statistical analysis of what you find in populations to draw conclusions that are reliable. The court allowed into evidence Freeman’s testimony that one in 700 procedures ever year done in Tucker’s age group resulted in iatrogenic ovarian failure, but excluded his testimony that the procedure is 99 percent likely to be the cause of ovarian failure when it occurs in someone who has had the same procedure as Tucker.

No Indiana case has directly addressed the admissibility of epidemiological evidence in a medical malpractice case, or otherwise. Other jurisdictions have allowed this type of evidence, but the appellate court pointed out those cases cited by Tucker did not involve medical malpractice.

“Testimony establishing that the fact of a surgery makes ovarian failure more likely could mean that Dr. Harrison did everything right and ovarian failure is simply a risk of having any sort of ovarian surgery. It does not establish a causal relationship between Dr. Harrison’s acts or omissions and Tucker’s injury,” Chief Judge Margret Robb wrote in Ashley T. Tucker v. Michelle R. Harrison, M.D., 79A05-1108-CT-404.

Epidemiological testimony is not relevant to the issue of causation in this case, so the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding part of Freeman’s testimony, she wrote, noting this testimony may be admitted in the appropriate medical malpractice case.

The trial court excluded evidence from a physician witness called by Tucker that she says alleges bias on the part of every Indiana doctor because they are all participants in the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund, and therefore have a financial interest in whether payouts are made from the fund. The COA affirmed, finding Tucker’s proffered evidence merely speculates through the physician’s testimony that every doctor in Indiana has an interest in limiting financial exposure by limiting payouts from the Patient’s Compensation Fund.

The judges also upheld that Tucker was not entitled to a res ipsa loquitur instruction.

 

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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