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Testimony based on medical journals allowed

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A physician testifying at a medical malpractice case should have been allowed to offer testimony based on her reading of medical journals, and a Marion County judge erred when he excluded part of her statements, the Indiana Court of Appeals decided.

The error, however, was harmless and didn't affect the overall outcome in a medical negligence case against a Wishard Memorial Hospital doctor stemming from a relative's death following post-operative treatment.

The court issued its unanimous ruling today in Linda Spaulding, et al. v. Erinn R. Harris, M.D. and Health and Hospital Corp. of Marion County d/b/a Wishard Memorial Hospital, No. 49A02-0810-CV-954. The case involves the medical treatment and subsequent death of Mattie Spaulding, a morbidly obese 58-year-old woman who underwent emergency aortic valve replacement surgery for congestive heart failure. A couple months after the procedure in March 2002, she consulted with Harris at Wishard's Blackburn Community Health Center for post-operative blood monitoring for possible clots. She had blood tests to monitor her coagulation factor because of being on a blood thinner. On June 20, 2002, an ambulance was called to her house; however, she refused three times to be transported. Three days later, she was taken to Community Hospital and diagnosed with a subdural hematoma for which she underwent a craniotomy. She was later transferred to a rehabilitation facility, where she suffered acute respiratory failure and died. The cause of death was a blood clot traveling to the lungs and preventing oxygenation.

After her death, the Spaulding family filed a complaint with the Indiana Department of Insurance against Dr. Erinn Harris and Wishard Memorial Hospital, alleging the doctor failed to adequately monitor Mattie's coagulation and that she developed her injuries because of negligence. Two members of a medical review panel found in May 2006 that a material issue of fact existed and should be heard by a jury, while a third panelist determined the defendants had failed to provide the appropriate standard of care. The Spauldings then filed suit in Marion Superior Court.

An issue arose when one of the medical review panelists, a primary care doctor, testified based on her experience in administering blood thinners and monitoring coagulation like Mattie's. She testified in a video deposition that a medical article she'd consulted showed higher blood levels could present a greater danger for spontaneous bleeds, and that her belief was that Harris should have tested Mattie more often; she had no tests between June 4 and 23. Judge Gerald Zore redacted portions of the expert's causation testimony that was based on medical literature, but the Spauldings argued that testimony was improperly excluded.

The Court of Appeals agreed, citing caselaw from the 1980s to show expert witnesses can draw upon all sources of information and consult authoritative sources to reach a conclusion. Finding that Indiana Code Section 34-18-10-23 does not give review panel members a "free pass to testify on any matters they so choose," the court acknowledged that she could consult medical periodicals during the deposition under Rule 702. However, the exclusion was harmless because at least three others statements from that doctor were admitted and other testimony showed a similar connection about the medical issue.

The court also determined that the trial court didn't abuse its discretion by excluding the words "Department of Insurance" on the medical review panel opinion and that admitting a redacted copy of that certified opinion was allowed.

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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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