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Texas Supreme Court Evaluates Expert’s Testimony in Medical Malpractice Claim

In a medical malpractice case before the Supreme Court of Texas, the court had to decide whether an expert’s testimony was conclusory and if it could support a decision in the plaintiff’s favor. Ultimately, the court concluded that the expert’s opinion was not conclusory because it was supported by the physical evidence as well as the expert’s own experience in the field.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a father took his children out, and in the parking of a gas station, he became disoriented and his speech was slurred. An ambulance took him to a Texas hospital where he was evaluated by an emergency room physician. He reported that he’d had three similar episodes in the past few months, but that this episode was more severe. After undergoing an MRI, doctors determined that the father had compensated obstructive hydrocephalus due to aqueductal stenosis, and that he would need a shunt inserted in his brain the following day. Doctors referred him to a neurosurgeon to determine how to proceed. The father left the hospital and saw the neurosurgeon the following day.

Evidently, the neurosurgeon saw the father the following day, but instead of inserting a shunt, the neurosurgeon put a ventricular drain in his brain to monitor his intracranial pressure. Less than two weeks later, the father had another episode, and informed the neurologist at the hospital. The neurologist performed additional tests, which showed that the aqueductal stenosis had worsened. The neurologist did not relay the information to the neurosurgeon. The plaintiff died later that year due to the aqueductal stenosis.

The plaintiff’s wife filed a negligence claim against the neurosurgeon and others. After a trial, a jury found the neurosurgeon and the neurologist were negligent, finding the neurosurgeon was 80 percent at fault. The neurosurgeon appealed, and a court of appeals reversed the decision. The plaintiff then appealed to the Texas Supreme Court. The Supreme Court had to decide whether the plaintiff’s expert testimony was conclusory.

In this case, the plaintiff’s expert testified that the neurosurgeon failed to meet the standard of care because he should have inserted a shunt in the plaintiff’s brain based on the man’s MRI and his “classic symptoms.” The Texas Supreme Court held that the expert’s opinion was not conclusory because he based his conclusion on the plaintiff’s medical records and test results, on the expert’s own experience treating patients, and on the experience of other doctors in the field. Thus, the court affirmed the jury’s verdict in favor of the defendant.

Expert Testimony in Medical Malpractice Cases

In Texas medical malpractice cases, as in other negligence cases, a plaintiff must prove a legal duty, a breach of that duty, and damages proximately caused by the breach. To prove a breach of legal duty in a medical malpractice case, the plaintiff must establish that the care provided by the defendant doctor was not in line with that of a doctor of ordinary prudence in the same field as the defendant, given the same circumstances.

Conclusory testimony is testimony that provides a conclusion without an explanation or supporting evidence. Such testimony cannot support a judgment in a medical malpractice claim. Thus, a medical expert must explain how and why a doctor’s actions caused the plaintiff’s injury.

Call a San Antonio Personal Injury Attorney

Each day patients put their lives in the hands of healthcare professionals. Unfortunately, some healthcare professional act carelessly, causing patients to suffer as a result. If you or a loved one has been injured because of a doctor’s medical malpractice, contact the San Antonio attorneys at Carabin Shaw. We represent individuals and their families in Texas medical malpractice claims, as well as other personal injury claims. Carabin Shaw offers free consultations and works on a contingent fee basis. This means that you do not pay a fee unless we successfully resolve your case. Call us toll-free at 1-800-862-1260.

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