Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of Los Angeles Doctor in Malpractice Decision

In a recent California Court of Appeals opinion, Hoffman v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Cal. Ct. App (2014), the court decided the issue of the properness of the lower court’s decision to strike an expert witness declaration in a medical malpractice case, which accompanied a motion for summary judgment on behalf of the defendant.

The plaintiff filed an action for medical negligence against a doctor and the hospital where he worked, alleging that the doctor had performed a negligent hernia surgery. The plaintiff alleged that the health care services provided to him fell below the standard of care, allegedly causing him to suffer serious and permanent injury.

The doctor moved for summary judgment and provided a declaration by another doctor, who stated his opinion that the defendant doctor acted within the standard of care for the type of surgeon practicing in that geographic area, Southern California. His declaration reportedly further stated that “with a reasonable degree of medical probability, neither his acts nor omissions” led to the plaintiff’s injuries.

However, the plaintiff objected to the doctor’s declaration, claiming that the doctor was not qualified to express an opinion regarding the relevant standard of care for the procedure. The court sustained the challenge to the declaration, on the basis that the doctor did not establish that he was currently practicing general surgery, or that he was familiar with the particular type of procedure (hernia surgery) at the time it was performed in the case. The court stated that the doctor failed to explain his familiarity with that standard of care. Therefore, since that declaration was stricken, the defendant doctor failed to meet the burden required in order to secure a summary judgment motion.

The court of appeals engaged in a lengthy discussion of the expert witness doctor’s credentials, including the fact that he was triple board certified in the relevant field, general surgery. The court stated that he reviewed all of the patient’s medical records related to the hernia surgery and treatment following the surgery. The expert witness doctor stated that in his opinion the defendant doctor fully complied with the relevant standard of care.

The court then delved into a discussion of medical malpractice expert witness standards. It stated that in order to testify in a medical malpractice case as an expert witness, the individual must have “knowledge, learning ad skill with the relevant subject….and he or she must be familiar with the [relevant standard of care].” Experts can base their determinations on any evidence that is typically or reasonably may be relied on by others in their field.

The court found that the expert witness “unquestionably demonstrated sufficient knowledge, learning, and skill of a general surgeon, and he declared under penalty of perjury he is familiar with the standard of care in hernia operations.”

Furthermore, the court found that the lower court had an obligation to follow the relevant binding authority in these types of cases, and it therefore directed the lower court to reverse its decision on the motion for summary judgment, based on the reasoning that the declaration of the expert witness met the relevant standards, and that the defendant doctor was therefore entitled to summary judgment therein.

The primary purpose of most personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits is to recoup the financial burdens that are placed on victims.  Medical bills – from doctor’s visits to hospital stays – can be crippling and can quickly become more than victims can afford.  Also, many accidents result in the victim being unable to work for a period of time.  Settlements can mitigate the rising costs of medical bills and loss of wages.  In the case of a wrongful death, the loss of the earning potential of the deceased is factored into many settlements as well. Contact us today for a free consultation. We can be reached through this website, or by calling (866) 422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Court of Appeals Affirms Jury’s Purported Use of Math in Accident Verdict, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, published April 20, 2015

California Court of Appeals Upholds Default Judgment in Faulty Brakes Accident Case, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, published April 16, 2015

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