Earlier this month, a Michigan court issued an interesting opinion regarding the admissibility of evidence in a medical malpractice case. In the case, Rock v. Crocker, the appellate court held that there is a very specific manner in which lower courts should approach questions of evidence admissibility, and since the court below applied the law in the wrong manner, the case was remanded to give the lower court the opportunity to do so correctly.
Crocker, the plaintiff, had ankle surgery performed by the defendant in 2008. Shortly after the surgery, the defendant advised Crocker he could put weight on his ankle without a problem. However, Crocker did not put weight on the ankle and continued to allow it to heal. Just a few months later, however, Crocker required an additional surgery because the defendant allegedly failed to fuse all the necessary bones during the first surgery. Upon hearing this, Crocker filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the defendant.
At trial, Crocker presented an expert who testified that the defendant was negligent in failing to use enough screws to connect the bones and also in advising that Crocker can put weight on his ankle too early after the surgery. However, the expert also testified that these failures did not cause any injury to Crocker. The plaintiff acknowledged that the expert’s testimony did not prove causation – i.e., that the defendant’s negligence resulted in his injuries – but argued that it was relevant to the defendant’s general competence as a surgeon. The court agreed and allowed the expert’s testimony to be considered.