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Judges disagree if testimony is hypothetical

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Indiana Court of Appeals judges disagreed over whether two doctors' expert witness testimony in a medical malpractice case used hypothetical language that couldn't raise a genuine issue of fact.

The majority in Myers Blaker vs. Ronald Young II M.D. and Indianapolis Neurosurgical Group, No. 49A02-0811-CV-1038, determined the opinions of plaintiff Myers Blaker's expert witnesses - Drs. Mitesh Shah and Joel Boaz - were based on speculation and conjecture, not facts established by designated evidence in the case.

Both doctors used the words "if" and "assume" in their testimony, leading Chief Judge John Baker and Judge Ezra Friedlander to find their testimony insufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact.

The doctors testified on behalf of Blaker in his suit against Dr. Ronald Young, following a surgery to treat Blaker's subocciptal headaches and neck pain. In his operative report, Young noted the left tonsillar branch of the posterior inferior cerebellar artery, or PICA, but never mentioned the right one. Immediately after surgery, Blaker appeared to be fine, but later went into respiratory arrest, had to be intubated, and couldn't move his extremities. An MRI three years later showed he suffered a stroke in the area of the brain supplied by the PICA.

A medical review board found Young complied with the appropriate standard of care. The trial court granted the doctor summary judgment in Blaker's malpractice action. The trial court also denied Blaker's request to supplement his designated evidence.

The majority ruled the affidavits of Shah and Boaz confirm the finding of the panel that there isn't any evidence Young didn't meet the standard of applicable care.

"Both doctors agreed that, hypothetically, if Dr. Young did not identify the right PICA, then he deviated from the standard of care," wrote Judge Friedlander. "Moreover, there is no evidence in the record to provide a factual basis for the hypothetical situation on which their opinions are based."

Judge Patricia Riley dissented, noting both doctors' affidavits satisfy the requirements under Jordan v. Deery, 609 N.E.2d 1104, 1110 (Ind. 1993), which ruled an expert opinion in the context of summary judgment proceedings should recite the expert's credentials and the records reviewed and relied upon by the expert.

Judge Riley also noted Indiana Rule of Evidence 702(a) doesn't establish any threshold of certainty for expert opinion, and that the appellate court found a statement using "if" in Bunch v. Tiwari, 711 N.E.2d 844, 850 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999), to be admissible and sufficient to refute the medical review panel's opinion.

"Likewise here, the statement contained in Dr. Shah's and Dr. Boaz's affidavits do not rise to the level of a hypothetical situation and should have been admitted. Specifically, both experts testified it would be substandard care if Dr. Young failed to identify the right PICA," she wrote.

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  4. Law school is social control the goal to produce a social product. As such it began after the Revolution and has nearly ruined us to this day: "“Scarcely any political question arises in the United States which is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question. Hence all parties are obliged to borrow, in their daily controversies, the ideas, and even the language, peculiar to judicial proceedings. As most public men [i.e., politicians] are, or have been, legal practitioners, they introduce the customs and technicalities of their profession into the management of public affairs. The jury extends this habitude to all classes. The language of the law thus becomes, in some measure, a vulgar tongue; the spirit of the law, which is produced in the schools and courts of justice, gradually penetrates beyond their walls into the bosom of society, where it descends to the lowest classes, so that at last the whole people contract the habits and the tastes of the judicial magistrate.” ? Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

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