Monroe Medical Malpractice Case Explores Directed Verdicts, Expert Testimony

On February 24, 2003, D H visited the North Monroe Medical Center to have a benign tumor removed from her breast. The procedure was performed by Doctor A, a general surgeon, and Doctor B, a radiologist. The procedure involved inserting a metal wire, guided by x-ray, into the breast and “hooking” the tumor. Once Doctor A removed the mass of tissue, Doctor B compared pre- and post-operation images and confirmed that the tumor had been taken out. The tissue was sent for pathological analysis, which revealed that it was not the intended tumor, but rather normal breast tissue. A mammogram several months later revealed that a section of the wire hook and the tumor remained in H’s breast. Doctor A, therefore, performed another procedure in which he successfully removed the wire fragment and the tumor.

H filed a medical review panel complaint against Doctor A and the North Monroe Medical Center. The panel found in favor of the defendants, and H filed a medical malpractice suit on January 19, 2007. She amended the complaint to include Doctor B on October 30, 2008. In February, 2011, following the completion of H’s case, the defendants moved for directed verdicts, which the trial court granted. H appealed the trial court’s granting of directed verdicts in favor of Doctor A and Doctor B. Under Louisiana law, a directed verdict should be granted when, after considering all the evidence, it is clear to the court that the “facts and inferences so overwhelmingly favor a verdict for the movant, that reasonable jurors could not have arrived at a contrary conclusion.” This, naturally, in the case of a defendant’s petition for a directed verdict, requires that all of the plaintiff’s evidence be properly before the court. Expert testimony is not absolutely required in order for the plaintiff to overcome the burden to show that the defendant was negligent. In fact, on appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeal, H argued that expert testimony was not necessary to establish malpractice, as the actions that led to her injury were “obviously careless acts” and, as such, negligence could be inferred. The court disagreed, offering that “although the procedure itself may be considered routine, considering the procedure as a whole, specifically the judgment calls required of Drs. A & B, it is clear that this is not a scenario from which lay persons could infer negligence.”

This conclusion led to the analysis of the trial court’s refusal to certify Dr. Roderick Boyd, H’s witness during the trial, as an expert in radiology. As a result of Dr. Boyd’s being certified in general surgery only, he was unable to comment on most of Doctor B’s involvement in H’s procedure during his testimony. The court’s review of the record of Dr. Boyd’s voir dire revealed that “Dr. Boyd had performed several hundred needle localization breast biopsies. He does regularly review radiographic images as a function of his occupation as a general surgeon and in connection with biopsies such as the one performed in this case.” Therefore, the court’s “not accept[ing] Dr. Boyd as an expert in this type of procedure to include a reading of the radiographic images was clear error. The court concluded, “We cannot speculate on Dr. Boyd’s opinion or its impact on the jury’s decision. Nonetheless, … we must reverse the trial court’s grant of both defendants’ motions for directed verdict, and remand for further proceedings.”

The irony of this favorable result for H is that it was based on an argument she did not make on appeal. In fact, the court’s considering the procedure not routine and confirming the need for expert testimony to establish the standard of care was contrary to H’s assertion that negligence could simply be inferred from the facts.

If you have been injured during a medical procedure, contact the Berniard Law Firm at 1-866-574-8005 and speak with an attorney who can help you navigate your medical malpractice litigation and obtain the recovery you deserve.