Virginia Medical Malpractice: VSC Res Ipsa Loquitur – a Lawyer’s Sufficiency

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On June 6, 2008, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld a medical malpractice verdict for roughly $100,000.00 unsupported by a medical expert. The case is Webb v. Smith, 276 Va. 305 (2008).

The Virginia Supreme Court in Webb reiterated that “in medical malpractice cases, ‘expert testimony is ordinarily necessary to establish the appropriate standard of care, to establish a deviation from the standard, and to establish that such a deviation from the proximate cause of the claimed damages’.” Id. at 308. “Exceptions to this rule exist only in ‘those rare cases in which a healthcare provider’s act or omission is clearly negligent within the common knowledge of laymen’.” Id.

Such a “rare case” involves the medical malpractice doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. That translates to “the thing speaks for itself”.

In Webb, a surgeon was supposed to perform a hysterectomy and a bilateral salpingo oophorectomy, but simply forgot to perform the latter. In upholding the medical malpractice award, the Virginia Supreme Court concluded in Webb: “A reasonably intelligent juror did not need an expert to explain why Dr. Smith’s negligence was the proximate cause of Webb’s damages because the issue of causation was within the common knowledge of laymen.” Id.