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Nurses may be expert witnesses in some standard of care disputes

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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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  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

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