Virginia: Medical Malpractice – a Lawyer’s Experts (March 20, 2011)

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As recent Virginia Supreme Court case pronounced “a medical doctor is qualified to give expert testimony about the cause of human physical injury.” Hollingsworth v. Norfolk So. Ry. Co., 279 Va. 360, 364 (2010)(emphasis added). “Code §8.01-581.20 addresses only the qualifications of experts to testify on the standard of care and whether the standard of care is breached in a medical malpractice case. The requirements do not address whether an expert witness is qualified to testify on proximate causation.” Therefore, the trial court abused its discretion by holding that Dr. Corkill was not qualified to testify on proximate causation…” Lloyd v. Kime, 275 Va. 98, 112 (2008)(citation omitted)(emphasis added).

[B]y the great weight of authority, a physician or surgeon is not incompetent to testify as an expert merely because he is not a specialist in the particular branch of his profession involved in the case; although this fact may be considered as affecting the weight of his testimony.” Butler v. Greenwood, 180 Va. 456, 462 (1942)(emphasis added)(“orthopedic surgeon of Richmond, Virginia, was permitted to answer a hypothetical question touching the brain condition of Mr. Greenwood,” who “was under the care of another doctor”).

[T]he fact that Dr. Rodman [a ‘family’ physician’ treating some patients with heart ailments,] is not a cardiologist’ or cardiothoracic surgeon does not prevent him from giving an expert opinion on this issue [whether the vehicle collision caused the heart attack]. The fact that Dr. Redman may not be a member of one of these specialties only goes to the weight which the trier of fact may place on his testimony.” Thomas v. Builders Transp., Inc., 28 Va. Cir. 93, 95 (Amherst Apr. 3, 1992)(emphasis added).

Defendant in another medical malpractice case “argues that since Dr. Hall is a general surgeon and is not a radiologist or a pathologist, his opinion [that Defendant’s ‘negligence was a proximate cause of Burke’s death’] rested on mere conjecture and improperly was based on subjects on which he was not qualified to offer an expert opinion. We disagree.” Lo v. Burke, 249 Va. 311, 318 (1995) (emphasis added). “In reaching this conclusion, we reject Dr. Lo’s argument that Dr. Hall improperly was allowed to offer opinion testimony on subjects involving radiology and pathology. Dr. Hall testified that while he is not qualified to examine pathology slides or read radiography films, the duties of a general surgeon include the review of reports of all the medical specialists involved in a case. * * * Therefore, we conclude that Dr. Hall’s evaluation of pathology and radiology reports in formulating his expert opinion did not constitute improper opinion testimony.” Id. (emphasis added).

Dr. Zimmerman testified that he regularly reviews CT scans, X-ray films, and other tests in evaluating tissue samples for the presence of disease. He explained that, although he has not had formal training in radiology and does not consider himself an expert in that field, he is able to read and interpret CT scans. Dr. Zimmerman further stated that, if he is unable to read a CT scan, he consults with a radiologist. However, he testified that he was able to read and interpret the CT scans of King’s eye without requesting a radiologist’s opinion. Dr. Zimmerman also indicated that, as a pathologist, he is familiar with the cellular manifestations that are characteristic of Sjogren’s syndrome.” King v. Sowers, 252 Va. 71, 78 (1996)(emphasis added). We conclude that the trial court did not err in permitting Dr. Zimmerman’s testimony on these issues, since the evidence showed that he regularly evaluated CT scans in his pathology practice, and that he has skills and experience in recognizing Sjogren’s syndrome. The fact that Dr. Zimmerman did not qualify as an expert in radiology or rheumatology is relevant only to the weight to be given his testimony by the trier of fact.” Id. (citation omitted)(emphasis added).