Court: Doctor Qualified to Testify on Suicide Victim’s Pain

On behalf of Brown & Crouppen, P.C. posted in Medical Malpractice on Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A doctor called by the plaintiff as an expert witness in a medical malpractice suit should have been allowed to testify that intense pain drove the patient to commit suicide, the Missouri Supreme Court recently ruled. The patient’s suicide occurred before the case went to trial, but his family may refile the case.

The underlying case involved a Florida man who came to Missouri in 2005 to have spinal surgery performed by a surgeon with Columbia Orthopaedic Group. The surgery allegedly left the man paralyzed from the waist down and in severe pain. He was prescribed several painkillers but none of them helped, the lawsuit said.

The man sued the surgeon and Columbia Orthopaedic for medical malpractice. But eight months later, he wrote farewell letters to his wife and daughter and killed himself using a gun he had just purchased.

His family amended the suit against Columbia Orthopaedic and the surgeon to include a wrongful death claim. They retained a doctor to be an expert witness. In an affidavit, the doctor testified that the pain caused by the surgery was so excruciating that it forced the man to commit suicide. The defendants objected to the doctor’s testimony being used a trial, calling it his personal opinion, not an expert conclusion. The Boone County Circuit judge presiding over the case agreed with the defendants and blocked the doctor’s testimony.

The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments on September 16, and handed down its unanimous opinion on January 25. In the opinion, written by Judge Michael Wolff, the Court said that the trial judge should have allowed the doctor’s testimony. His experience with patients in a similar situation to the man qualified him as an expert, the opinion said. Whether his expert testimony should be followed should have been up to a jury, not the judge, the Court said.

Source: Columbia Daily Tribune, “Court rules judge erred on witness,” Andrew Denney, January 26, 2011

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