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Johnson v. Riverdale Anesthesia Associates

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Clair Johnson died during surgery due to a deprivation of oxygen. Plaintiffs brought suit against Defendants asserting that Defendants committed medical malpractice. Both parties brought experts to testify. Plaintiff planned examining Defendant’s expert witness. Defendant motioned in limine to preclude a line of questioning, and the trial judge sustained the motion. The jury ruled for Defendant. The appellate court affirmed. Plaintiff appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Evidence of an expert witness’ own practice may be omitted as irrelevant in a medial malpractice suit. 

    Facts.

    Clair Johnson passed away after a severe physical reaction to anesthesia during surgery that resulted in a deprivation of oxygen. Clair’s husband, Donald Johnson, and the administratrix of her estate (collectively Plaintiffs) brought suit against Clair’s anesthesiologist, Lawhead, and Lawhead’s employer, Riverdale Anesthesia Associates (collectively Defendants) in state court. Plaintiffs claim that Defendents failure to “preoxygenate” Clair before the surgery, which would have given her a reserve of oxygen in the event that her supply would be disrupted, was a breach of the standard of care, thus medical malpractice. Both Plaintiffs and Defendants relied upon medical expert witnesses. Plaintiff intended to question Defendant’s expert, Caplan, about his personal practice of preoxygenating patients. Evidence revealed that Caplan would have preoxygenated Clair had she been his patient. Defendant motioned in limine to preclude that line of questioning by Plaintiff. The trial court sustained the motion, and the jury found in Defendant’s favor. The appellate court affirmed the judgment. Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue.

     Whether evidence of an expert witness’ own practice may be omitted as irrelevant in a medial malpractice suit.

    Held.

    Yes, evidence of an expert witness’ own practice may be omitted as irrelevant in a medial malpractice suit.

    Dissent.

    The majority improperly finds that Caplan’s personal practices are irrelevant, especially regarding their use to impeach. Also, the court should not have summarily overruled Prevost v. Taylor, 396 S.E.2d 17 (Ga. Ct. App. 1990). In Prevost, the court emphasized that evidence of a medical expert’s personal practices could be probative and illustrative of the expert’s credibility, despite the fact that such evidence did not tend to prove or disprove the standard of care. The trial court materially erred in denying Plaintiff the right to cross-examine Caplan as to his personal practices.

    Discussion.

    The court overrules Prevost v. Taylor, 396 S.E.2d 17 (Ga. Ct. App. 1990), to the extent that decision holds contrary to this decision. Medical malpractice claims are determined based on a finding of whether the defendant breached the standard of care that is generally recognized by the medical profession. Thus, the practice of one particular physician is not relevant or dispositive to a finding a general standard of care. In this case,Caplan’s personal treatment methods are irrelevant and not dispositive to the question of the standard of care of the medical profession generally.Because it is irrelevant, that form of questioning is improper, cannot be questioned on direct or cross-examination, and cannot be used to impeach the witness. Therefore, the trial court did not err or abuse its discretion in granting Defendant’s motion in limine.


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