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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. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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