Filed under: Civil Procedure

The ‘Mudano’ Rule: Conflicting Expert Opinions Often Prove Fatal

Originally published on The Legal Intelligencer  an ALM Media publication, March 16, 2017.

*Part of the ALM family of award-winning legal products and publications.*

By: Daniel E. Cummins

A plaintiff’s personal injury case can go off the rails when the plaintiff’s medical experts offer opinions that conflict with one another. This may typically arise where one expert for the plaintiff opines that a particular injury was caused by the subject accident and yet another expert questions whether the injury is indeed related.

Under Pennsylvania Rule of Evidence 702, titled “Testimony by Expert Witnesses,” it is provided, that “a witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education may testify in the form of an opinion” if the expert’s specialized knowledge is beyond that of a layperson and such knowledge will assist the jury to understand the evidence or determine a fact in issue.

Generally speaking, the admissibility of expert opinion is a matter left largely within the broad discretion of the trial court, as in Bolus v. United Penn Bank, 525 A.2d 1215, 1225 (Pa.Super. 1987).

Where a plaintiff’s experts conflict with one another, the plaintiff is likely to be faced with a defense motion in limine seeking to preclude each expert’s opinion on the basis that allowing such evidence would only serve to confuse, and not educate, the jury.

Notably, in the separate scenario where the defense produces conflicting expert reports in a civil litigation matter, the defense may still be permitted to proceed with the expert testimony as the defense does not bear the burden of proof at trial. The remedy for the plaintiff in this regard is to point out to the jury the conflicting nature of the opinions of the defense experts in an effort to discredit the defense.

The ‘Mudano’ Rule

Under what has become known as the Mudano rule, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Mudano v. Philadelphia Rapid Transit, 289 Pa. 51, 60, 137 A. 104, 107 (1927), has held that the testimony of a plaintiff’s medical experts must be reasonably consistent with one another such that, with respect to the plaintiff’s experts, “there must be no absolute contradiction in their essential conclusions.” The court further stated that a plaintiff has a “duty to furnish consistent, and not inconsistent, advice—otherwise the jury would be confused rather than instructed.”

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reiterated the Mudano rule in case of Brannan v. Lankenau Hospital, 417 A.2d 196 (Pa. 1980). In Brannan, the court cited Mudano for the proposition “that a plaintiff’s case will fail when the testimony of his two expert witnesses is so contradictory that the jury is left with no guidance on the issue, see also Menarde v. Philadelphia Transportation, 103 A.2d 681 (Pa. 1954) (The Pennsylvania Supreme Court applies Mudano rule to the plaintiff’s expert reports); see also Halper v. Jewish Family and Children Services of Great of Philadelphia, 963 A.2d 1282, 1287 (Pa. 2009) (The Pennsylvania Supreme Court applies the Mudano rule to the plaintiff’s expert reports).

Even if a plaintiff attempts to supplement his discovery responses to only identify one of the two conflicting as the only expert the plaintiff will call at trial, the Mudano rule will be implicated when the defense cross-examines the plaintiff’s expert with respect to the separate, contradictory opinion of the plaintiff’s other expert.

In such a case, the jury would still be faced with conflicting opinions by two experts from the plaintiff’s side of the matter, i.e., the very situation that the Mudano rule holds will cause the plaintiff’s case to fail. The defense argument will be that the plaintiff should not be allowed to put the court, the parties, the attorneys and the jurors through the time and expense of the trial by simply choosing to identify one expert and ignoring the contradictory opinions of his or her other expert. Such evidentiary gamesmanship should not be countenanced by the courts where the purpose of a civil trial is get to the truth of the claims and defenses asserted.

Not Applicable to Defense

The courts of Pennsylvania have rejected attempts by plaintiffs to have the Mudano rule applied to defense experts that conflict with one another. The courts have reasoned that the rule should not apply to the defense case because the defense does not bear the burden of proof at trial.

Plaintiffs may cite to the case of Smith v. German, 253 A.2d 107 (Pa. 1959), in support of an argument that the defense must produce consistent evidence in an effort to disprove causation between an accident and a plaintiff’s alleged injuries.

However such an argument has been rejected by more recent Pennsylvania appellate court decisions. In Kennedy v. Sell, 816 A.2d 1153, 1159 (Pa. Super. 2003), the Pennsylvania Superior Court stated that its “research indicates that Smith has never been cited in subsequent cases for the proposition that in all cases where a defendant challenges the causation element of a plaintiff’s case, that he must produce independent evidence of his own. In fact, we can find no case citing to Smith that applies the case to the defendant. In large part, Smith, as it may apply to a defendant, appears to be an anomaly limited to the facts of that case.”

Rather, in personal injury matters, the defense has no burden of proof on the issue of causation and, therefore, the Mudano is inapplicable to the defense evidence. As emphasized by the Pennsylvania Superior Court in the Kennedy case, when there is some evidence of other causes of a plaintiff’s alleged injuries, the burden of proving these other causes does not shift to the defense. To the contrary, as confirmed by the Kennedy court, absent special circumstances, a defendant carries no burden of proof in a civil litigation matter.

Stated otherwise, “a defendant may choose to present no evidence and may simply argue that the plaintiff has not met its burden of proof. A jury may find for the defendant in such a situation.” The Kennedy court also pointed out that the Smith decision “does not require a defendant … to present independent medical testimony specifically linking the alleged injuries to another cause.”

Moreover, it has otherwise generally been held as a principle of Pennsylvania law that an opinion offered by the party, i.e., the defendant, not having the burden of proof need not be as precise as an opinion offered by the party with the burden of proof, as in Neal v. Lu, 530 A.2d 103, 109-110 (Pa. Super. 1987).

It Comes Down to Sufficiency of Expert Evidence

It has generally been held by the courts of Pennsylvania that the effect of a conflict between the testimony of different experts called by a party is in reality a question of the sufficiency of the evidence.

In the case of conflicting expert opinions presented by a defendant not having the burden of proof, the courts will allow the issue to proceed to the jury for the jury’s consideration as to what weight to be applied to such contradictory evidence.

However, conflicting expert opinions on the plaintiff’s side of the case will often prove fatal. Such evidence fails to satisfy the plaintiff’s burden of proof, renders the plaintiff’s case speculative and, if the case were allowed to proceed to verdict, would cause the jury to engage in impermissible guesswork on the important issues presented in the case.

Accordingly, where a plaintiff’s experts conflict with one another, the courts will likely preclude such experts under the Mudano rule and then proceed to enter a nonsuit in favor of the defense due to the plaintiff’s failure to meet his or her burden of proof on the case presented. •

 

Special to the Law Weekly Daniel E. Cummins is a partner and civil litigator with the Scranton law firm of Foley Comerford & Cummins. His civil litigation blog, Tort Talk, can be viewed at www.TortTalk.com.

Leave a Comment March 17, 2017

Florida May Be Reverting to Frye Standard for Admissibility of Expert Testimony

Originally published in Daily  Business Review, an ALM Media publication, March 2, 2o17.

*Part of the ALM family of award-winning legal products and publications.*

By:  April M. Dahl

The Florida Supreme Court issued a highly anticipated decision on Feb. 16 regarding the admissibility of expert testimony in Florida.

After less than four years as a presumptive Daubert state, Florida may be reverting to the Frye standard to govern the admissibility of expert testimony, a standard which many find to be archaic and out of touch with its federal counterpart. Although the decision was not unexpected, its impact will be significant for trial attorneys statewide due in large part to the unresolved questions left in its wake.

The Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia gave birth to Frye v. United States in 1923. Florida subsequently adopted the test espoused by the Frye court, which requires a two-prong inquiry for the admissibility of scientific evidence: whether the scientific theory or discovery from which the expert derived his/her opinion is reliable, and whether the opinion is accepted in the scientific field. The Frye standard reigned supreme nationwide for almost 70 years.

In 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court adopted a new, more stringent standard governing the admissibility of expert testimony with Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals. In Daubert, the court held that the Federal Rules of Evidence, and not Frye, provided the standard for admitting expert testimony at trial. Under Daubert, the trial court is tasked with evaluating the credentials of the proffered expert witness and serving as a gatekeeper to ensure that the testimony is based upon reliable foundation. The court noted that under the Federal Rules of Evidence, the trial judge must make a preliminary determination of whether the underlying methodology is scientifically valid. The Daubert court identified non-exclusive factors that a court may consider: whether the methodology has been or is amenable to testing, whether it has been subjected to peer review and/or publication, the known and potential error rate of the methodology and whether it has been generally accepted in the relevant scientific community.

 

Many states adopted the Daubert analysis shortly thereafter. Florida appeared to be one of the minority holdouts until July 1, 2013, when the Florida Legislature in House Bill 7015 amended Florida Statutes Sections 90.702 and 90.704 to replace the standard for expert testimony from the test set out in Frye to the test set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court of the in Daubert. These amendments to the Florida statutes mirror their counterparts contained in the Federal Rules of Evidence regarding the admissibility of expert testimony almost verbatim.

Case Vs. Rule

In its recent decision, the Florida Supreme Court declined to adopt certain legislative changes to the Florida Evidence Code, but only to the extent that the proposed changes were ‘procedural,’ the most significant of which were the newly enacted 90.702 and 90.704. In doing so, the court noted that it has been its policy to adopt procedural provisions of the Florida Evidence Code as enacted by the Florida Legislature. This departure underscores the significance and impact of the court’s decision.

In reaching its decision, the court cited “grave constitutional concerns” raised by the Florida Bar’s code and rules of evidence committee. In particular, the court found that the Daubert amendment may undermine a litigant’s right to a jury trial and deny access to the courts. Although the court raised these issues, it did not address the constitutionality of the statutes at this time. Rather, the court relied upon these “grave constitutional concerns” as the impetus for departing from its policy of adopting procedural provisions of the Florida Evidence Code.

The manner in which court attempted to resolve the present Frye vs. Daubert debate has not in fact definitively resolved the issue. Importantly, the Florida Supreme Court declined to address the remaining question — whether the Legislature’s attempt to transition Florida from Frye to Daubert was a substantive rather than a procedural change. The court left that question open for a “proper case or controversy.”

If the Daubert amendment is found to be procedural in a “proper case or controversy,” then Florida will revert to the arguably outdated Frye standard. On the other hand, if the Legislature’s amendment is subsequently held to be substantive, Florida may now be a Daubert state after all.

Until such a ruling, however, members of the state bar are left searching for the next case to provide direction regarding the appropriate standard governing the admissibility of expert testimony.

 

April M. Dahl is a partner in the Fort Lauderdale office of the national law firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson. She focuses her practice primarily in tort litigation, including products liability, toxic tort, indoor air quality, chemical exposure, construction defect, premises liability, automobile and general liability matters. Contact her at adahl@hinshawlaw.com.

Original Source: http://www.dailybusinessreview.com/id=1202780342439?back=law

 

Leave a Comment March 3, 2017

Engineering Expert Aids in Multi-Million Dollar Verdict for TX Crane Operator

Originally published on: VerdictSearch.com

Offshore worker’s foot crushed when cable snapped, block fell

Amount: $2,809,898.72

Type: Verdict-Plaintiff

State: Texas

Venue: Harris County

Court: Harris County District Court, 152nd

Injury Type(s):

back-herniated disc(herniated disc at L4-5); lumbar(herniated disc at L4-5)
other-plate
other-laceration
other-arthrodesis
other-physical therapy
other-pins/rods/screws
other-hardware implanted
foot/heel-heel
foot/heel-fracture(fracture, metatarsal); foot(fracture, metatarsal)
foot/heel-Lisfranc injury
foot/heel-crush injury; foot
foot/heel-fracture(fracture, calcaneus/heel); heel/calcaneus(fracture, calcaneus/heel)

Case Type:

Worker/Workplace Negligence - Worker/Workplace Negligence, , Worker/Workplace Negligence, Labor Law, Worker/Workplace Negligence, Oil Field, Worker/Workplace Negligence, Negligent Maintenance

Case Name: Luke Meyers v. W & T Offshore, Inc., No. 2012-74366

Date: August 27, 2015

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Luke Meyers (Male, 52 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Kyle Findley; Arnold & Itkin LLP; Houston, TX, for Luke Meyers
Cesar Tavares; Arnold & Itkin LLP; Houston, TX, for Luke Meyers

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Angel Roman ; MD ; Physical Medicine; San Antonio, TX called by: Kyle Findley, Cesar Tavares
Edward Ziegler ; P.E., C.S.P. ; Accident Reconstruction; Houston, TX called by: Kyle Findley,Cesar Tavares
Kenneth McCoin ; Ph.D. ; Economics; Houston, TX called by: Kyle Findley, Cesar Tavares


Defendant(s):

W&T Offshore Inc.

Defense Attorney(s):

Kelley J. Friedman; Johanson & Fairless; Houston, TX, for W&T Offshore Inc.
Randy L. Fairless; Johanson & Fairless; Sugar Land, TX, for W&T Offshore Inc.

Defendant Expert(s):

Matthew Gardiner; Engineering; called by: Kelley J. Friedman,Randy L. Fairless


Insurer(s):

Travelers Property Casualty Corp.

Facts:

On May 12, 2011, at approximately 8 a.m., plaintiff Luke Meyers, a 52-year-old crane mechanic, was performing maintenance on a crane that was located on an offshore oil and gas production platform (West Cam 610), in the Gulf of Mexico, off of the coast of Louisiana. While he was working, a holding a 67-pound , causing the to approximately 60 onto his left , which was . Meyers sued the owner/operator of the oil production platform, W & T Inc., for negligent maintenance. Meyers claimed that six months earlier, he had informed the defendant that the crane line was in need of replacement due to deficiencies that could potentially arise due to the ‘ life expectancy. The plaintiff contended that pursuant to industry standards, crane need to be replaced for preventative maintenance once every three years, because such can develop hidden defects. The plaintiff argued that six months and 19 days prior to the subject accident, he had recommended the subject be replaced pursuant to industry standards, and that the defendant had knowingly allowed a dangerous condition to exist on their property. Plaintiff’ counsel also argued that the order for a new the defense claimed existed did not feature a receipt. The plaintiff’ expert engineer testified that it was the defendant’ obligation to make sure the platform was maintained properly; that Meyer should not have had to take extra precautions; and that the crane should have featured a secondary constraint. The defense contended that an order for a new had been approved, and a ticket approving this order had been signed by a contracted supervisor on the platform, as well as a supervising W & T employee. The defense argued that while a recommendation had been made for replacement of the , it was still in technical working order, and met such requirements as to continue using it. The defense also contended that Meyers could have prevented the accident from occurring by refusing to work on the crane while it was in operation. The defense argued that if Meyers knew the crane may have deficits due to his own inspection of the , he should have taken more precautions in working on the crane, or should have refused to perform work on it. The defendant’ expert engineer testified that Meyers had not performed an adequate inspection of the crane in October 2010, as he did not recognize any defects in the at that time. He also testified that the could have had hidden defects, and that Meyers should have taken extra precautions while working on or near the crane, or recommended the crane be taken out of service, if he knew the had exceeded its life span.

Injury:

Meyers suffered a crush injury of his left foot. He was taken by helicopter to Lafayette General Medical Center in Lafayette, La. X-rays showed crush fractures to the metatarsal bones and lisfrac joint, as well as a crack to the left heel. Meyers also suffered a laceration to the left side of the foot, where his skin split due to force. This laceration was sutured, and Meyers was released with a modified walking boot and crutches for ambulation, as well as orders to let the injury attempt to heal, and to follow up with an orthopedic surgeon.

Approximately three weeks following the accident, Meyers began physical therapy that lasted five weeks, and included sessions three times per week.

Meyers presented to an orthopedic surgeon every six to eight weeks, and presented to a second orthopedic surgeon for a second opinion approximately eight months after the accident. This second orthopedic surgeon recommended Meyers undergo surgery to repair the fractures in his foot due to their failure to heal.

Meyers began to complain of back pain six weeks following the subject accident, and underwent a lumbar MRI. It revealed a disc herniation at the L4-5 level, for which was treated with home exercises.

Meyers underwent surgery to repair his foot fractures. This included the use of a plate and screws for stabilization of the bones. He underwent four more weeks of physical therapy, three times per week, following surgery.

Meyers claimed that he will need a one-level discectomy and fusion surgery at L4-L5. Other future needs included periodic MRIs and orthopedic appointments, as well as prescription medication.

He walks with a limp and claimed that the injuries have impaired his ability to walk on inclines and on stairs.

Meyers’ treating pain management doctor testified that he could no longer work in a heavy labor occupation as he had previous to the accident, and that future work would need to be sedentary.

Meyers sought recovery of damages totaling $2,809,898.72, including $180,463 for past lost wages; $707,129 for future lost wages; $66,074.93 for past medical costs; $306,232.09 for future medical costs; $300,000 for past pain and suffering; $500,000 for future pain and suffering; $250,000 for past physical impairment; and $500,000 for future physical impairment.

Result:

The jury placed 100% negligence on the defendant. The jury awarded Meyers $2,809,898.72.

Luke Meyers

$66,075 Personal Injury: Past Medical Cost

$306,232 Personal Injury: Future Medical Cost

$250,000 Personal Injury: Past Physical Impairment

$500,000 Personal Injury: Future Physical Impairment

$180,463 Personal Injury: Past Lost Earnings Capability

$707,129 Personal Injury: FutureLostEarningsCapability

$300,000 Personal Injury: Past Pain And Suffering

$500,000 Personal Injury: Future Pain And Suffering

Actual Award: $2,809,898.72

Trial Information:

Judge: Robert Schaffer

Demand: $430,000

Offer: $250,000 (Revoked before trial)

Trial Length: 7  days

Trial Deliberations: 1.5  hours

Jury Vote: 11-1

Jury Composition: 8 Female 4 Male

Editor’s Comment:

This case was written suing information provided by plaintiff’s counsel. Defense counsel did not respond to reporters requests for information.

Leave a Comment October 23, 2015


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