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.
The Facts of the Case
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.
The defendant appealed several issues, including the admissibility of the expert’s statement. The appellate court determined that the lower court took a shortcut in allowing the evidence into consideration. Specifically, the court explained that there are two kinds of relevance – legal and logical – and that the lower court only considered logical relevance.
Logical relevance is a question of whether the evidence at issue tends to prove or disprove a material fact. Here, the expert’s opinion clearly went to the issue of the defendant’s general competency and thus was logically relevant. However, legal relevance is a question of whether the evidence at issue is being used for the proper purpose at trial. Specifically, this involves whether the evidence is more probative – or useful to a judge or jury in making the ultimate determination – than it is prejudicial to the other party. Here, the plaintiff’s evidence showed that the alleged act of negligence did not result in any harm to the plaintiff. Thus, it was not probative of whether the other acts of the defendant did result in harm to the plaintiff. In other words, it was merely presented to help establish the defendant’s propensity to be negligent, which is not permitted.
Have You Been Injured by a Physician’s Negligence?
If you or a loved one has recently been the victim of medical malpractice, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. However, as you can see from the discussion above, medical malpractice cases are not as easy as putting forward all of the evidence in your favor. There are specific rules governing which evidence is admissible at trial, and a failure to comply with these rules can result in a much weaker case than anticipated. Call 410-654-3600 today to set up a free consultation with a dedicated Maryland medical malpractice attorney to discuss your case.
More Blog Posts:
Court Finds Post-Mortem Misconduct Falls under Medical Malpractice Umbrella and Must Comply with Applicable Procedural Requirements, Maryland Accident Law Blog, June 1, 2016.
Court Finds Deceased Skateboarder Assumed the Risk of Injury, Preventing Family from Seeking Compensation, Maryland Accident Law Blog, June 15, 2016.