Appeals court reverses for patient in med-mal case

A woman suing her doctor for medical malpractice won a reversal in her favor Friday after the Indiana Court of Appeals found she provided sufficient evidence regarding the applicable standard of care.

In 2017, Pamela Scholl sued orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mohammed E. Majd after he performed lumbar fusion surgery and a subsequent revision procedure on her spine. Scholl, who alleged that Majd committed medical malpractice during those procedures, brought in Dr. Robert F. Sexton to testify as an expert witness during a jury trial.

Sexton – a retired neurosurgeon who performed over 12,000 spine surgeries over a period of 60 years, including over 10,000 laminectomies and 150 fusions – testified that he disagreed with a medical review panel and its finding that Majd did not fall below the mythical standard of care while performing spine surgery on Scholl. But after Scholl rested her case, Majd moved for judgment on the evidence on the basis that Sexton did not demonstrate a familiarity with the applicable standard of care, and the Floyd Superior Court granted the motion.

Scholl subsequently filed to correct error, arguing the trial court erred in granting Majd’s motion for judgment on the evidence. However, the trial court denied Scholl’s motion.

But the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed in Scholl’s favor Friday, agreeing that she did provide sufficient evidence regarding the applicable standard of care to defeat Majd’s motion for judgment on the evidence.

The appellate panel first disagreed with Majd’s argument that Sexton, like the expert in Overshiner v. Hendricks Regional Health, 119 N.E.3d 1124 (Ind. Ct. App. 2019), misstated the standard of care and left the jury to speculate as to the applicable standard of care.

“Dr. Sexton quoted a doctor from the medical review panel’s deposition testimony that the standard of care is ‘what a reasonably skilled doctor with reasonably skilled training would do in a given situation.’ While this was not a word-for-word recitation of the legal definition for standard of care, it demonstrates Dr. Sexton was at least somewhat familiar with the legal bar for what constitutes medical malpractice,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the appellate court.

The court further concluded that unlike the expert in Overshiner, Sexton was familiar with treating patients suffering from the same condition as the plaintiff and had performed the same type of surgery performed on Scholl and other similar spine surgeries. Thus, it determined Sexton could speak to what a reasonably skilled, careful and prudent doctor would do and would not do in treating a patient like Scholl.

Additionally, the appellate court concluded that while Sexton’s comments were imprecise, they did not show a lack of familiarity with the applicable standard of care.

“Therefore, we reverse the trial court’s entry of judgment on the evidence in favor of Dr. Majd, and we remand the case for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion,” May concluded.

The case is Pamela Jane Scholl v. Mohammed E. Majd, M.D., 20A-CT-571.

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