The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently issued an opinion on whether a Plaintiff’s medical expert testimony on the reasonableness and necessity of a medical procedure should be precluded, due to that expert’s lack of qualifications. In Lingham v. Faison, (Mem. Op., No. 530 EDA 2016), the Superior Court upheld the trial court’s determination that Plaintiff’s expert was not qualified to render an opinion as to whether a rhizotomy procedure was reasonable, since the expert physician admittedly had no specialized knowledge of the procedure and could not explain the applicable standard of care.
Plaintiff Lingham was stopped at a red light when his vehicle was rear-ended by the Faison vehicle. The Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant Faison claiming injuries to his neck and back as a result of the accident. Lingham underwent physical therapy and various other treatment for about 6 months, then resumed treatment about 18 months later, at a new facility, after suit was filed. One of Plaintiff’s new doctors recommended and then performed a rhizotomy procedure.
At trial, the Plaintiff offered the expert testimony of only one physician who was not the physician who performed the rhizotomy. Defendant’s counsel objected to the admission of any testimony by the Plaintiff’s expert on the issue of the rhizotomy and whether it was reasonable and necessary. After oral argument on the issue, the trial court determined that Plaintiff’s expert had insufficient knowledge, experience or expertise on the rhizotomy procedure. The expert had had never performed one and had witnessed only one being performed, almost 50 years ago. The jury found that while liability was not in question as to the Defendant, the Plaintiff had not suffered a serious impairment of a body function. Plaintiff was bound by his limited tort option, and therefore the failure to suffer a serious impairment resulted in the preclusion of any non-economic damages.
Plaintiff appealed based on the alleged improper preclusion of the rhizotomy portion of their expert’s testimony. On appeal, the Superior Court noted that the standard for whether an expert is qualified to testify is if that expert has “any reasonable pretension to specialized knowledge on the subject under investigation.” The Court then opined that this decision ultimately is at the discretion of the trial court and upheld the trial court’s ruling. The Superior Court agreed with the lower court’s two-fold reasoning as to why Plaintiff’s challenge failed. The first reason was the obvious lack of qualification of the expert, with the Court noting that Plaintiff’s expert had only a vague understanding of the rhizotomy procedure and its standard of care. The Court’s second basis for denial was there was no explanation or support for how this testimony preclusion prejudiced the jury’s findings. The Court then opined that the jury had ample additional evidence upon which to base their decision that the Plaintiff did not suffer a serious impairment, even noting that whether the rhizotomy procedure was reasonable and necessary was, in fact, irrelevant. The Superior Court held that the trial court did not abuse its decision by precluding this limited portion of Plaintiff’s expert testimony.
Please contact Geraldine M. Linn, Esquire with any questions on this Opinion.