Filed under: New York Law Journal

MICHELLE DILORENZO vs JOHN ZASO

Originally published in The New York Law Journal , an ALM Media publication, on March 31, 2017.

  • SUPREME COURT, APPELLATE DIVISION: SECOND JUDICIAL DEPARTMENT
  • Mar 29 2017 (Date Decided)
  • Mastro, J.P.; Chambers, Miller and Maltese, JJ.

MICHELLE DILORENZO, res, v. JOHN ZASO, ETC., ET AL, ap — (INDEX NO. 13297/11)In an action to recover damages for medical malpractice, the defendant John Zaso appeals, and the defendants Beth Gottlieb and North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health Systems, doing business as Schneider Children’s Hospital, separately appeal, as limited by their respective briefs, from so much of an order of the Supreme Court, Nassau County (Cozzens, Jr., J.), entered January 6, 2015, as denied their separate motions for summary judgment dismissing the complaint insofar as asserted against each of them.

ORDERED that the order is reversed, on the law, with one bill of costs payable to the appellants appearing separately and filing separate briefs, and the motion of the defendant John Zaso and the separate motion of the defendants Beth Gottlieb and North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health Systems, doing business as Schneider Children’s Hospital, for summary judgment dismissing the complaint insofar as asserted against each of them are granted.

The plaintiff commenced this action against John Zaso, her former pediatrician, Beth Gottlieb, a pediatric rheumatologist, and North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health Systems, doing business as Schneider Children’s Hospital (hereinafter North Shore), alleging medical malpractice with respect to treatment she received from the defendants in June 2003. The plaintiff further alleged that as a result of the defendants’ medical malpractice, she developed acute rheumatic fever, which was manifested by Sydenham’s chorea and mitral valve regurgitation. Zaso moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint insofar as asserted against him, and Gottlieb and North Shore separately moved for the same relief as to them. The Supreme Court denied both motions on the basis that the plaintiff had raised triable issues of fact. Zaso appeals, and Gottlieb and North Shore separately appeal.

The elements of a medical malpractice cause of action are a deviation or departure “from accepted community standards of practice, and that such departure was a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries” (Stukas v. Streiter, 83 AD3d 18, 23). A defendant moving for summary judgment in a medical malpractice case must “demonstrate the absence of any material issues of fact” (Alvarez v. Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320, 324), with respect to at least one of these elements (see Cham v. St. Mary’s Hosp. of Brooklyn, 72 AD3d 1003, 1004). “In pursuance of its prima facie burden of proof, the moving defendant is required to address the factual allegations set forth in the plaintiffs’ bill of particulars with reference to the moving defendant’s alleged acts of negligence and the injuries suffered with competent medical proof” (id. at 1005). “[B]are conclusory assertions” by “defendants that they did not deviate from good and accepted medical practices, with no factual relationship to the alleged injury, do not establish that the cause of action has no merit so as to entitle defendants to summary judgment” (Winegrad v. New York Univ. Med. Ctr., 64 NY2d 851, 853). In opposing a motion for summary judgment in a medical malpractice case, a plaintiff needs “only to rebut the moving defendant’s prima facie showing” (Stukas v. Streiter, 83 AD3d at 23).

 

“Summary judgment is not appropriate in a medical malpractice action where the parties adduce conflicting medical expert opinions” (Feinberg v. Feit, 23 AD3d 517, 519). “General and conclusory allegations of medical malpractice, however, unsupported by competent evidence tending to establish the essential elements of medical malpractice, are insufficient to defeat a defendant physician’s summary judgment motion” (Myers v. Ferrara, 56 AD3d 78, 84; see Shashi v. South Nassau Communities Hosp., 104 AD3d 838, 839; Goldsmith v. Taverni, 90 AD3d 704, 705). Rather, the plaintiff’s expert must specifically address the defense expert’s allegations (see Feuer v. Ng, 136 AD3d 704, 707; Berthen v. Bania, 121 AD3d 732, 733; Swanson v. Raju, 95 AD3d 1105, 1107; Geffner v. North Shore Univ. Hosp., 57 AD3d 839, 842).

“[A] medical expert need not be a specialist in a particular field in order to testify regarding accepted practices in that field” (Behar v. Cohen, 21 AD3d 1045, 1046-1047 [internal quotation marks omitted]). However, the witness must “be possessed of the requisite skill, training, education, knowledge or experience from which it can be assumed that the opinion rendered is reliable” (id. at 1047 [internal quotation marks omitted]). “Thus, where a physician opines outside his or her area of specialization, a foundation must be laid tending to support the reliability of the opinion rendered” (id.). Where no such foundation is laid, the expert’s opinion is “of no probative value” (Feuer v. Ng, 136 AD3d at 707; see Tsimbler v. Fell, 123 AD3d 1009, 1009-1010; Shashi v. South Nassau Communities Hosp., 104 AD3d at 839; Geffner v. North Shore Univ. Hosp., 57 AD3d at 842; Mustello v. Berg, 44 AD3d 1018, 1018-1019).

Here, Zaso correctly contends that he demonstrated his prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law and that the plaintiff did not raise a triable issue of fact in opposition (see Alvarez v. Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d at 324). The plaintiff alleged that Zaso committed malpractice by: (1) failing to test, diagnose, and treat her for strep throat on June 6, 2003, and (2) failing to consider her history of strep infections and include rheumatic fever in the differential diagnosis on June 6, 2003. As to the failure to test, diagnose, and treat strep throat, Zaso did not meet his prima facie burden on the departure element, as his moving papers demonstrated the existence of a triable issue of fact as to whether the plaintiff complained of a sore throat to him in June 2003 (see id.Stukas v. Streiter, 83 AD3d at 23; Cham v. St. Mary’s Hosp. of Brooklyn, 72 AD3d at 1004). Zaso met his prima facie burden with respect to causation, however, as his experts both opined in their affirmations that the strep infection that triggered the plaintiff’s rheumatic fever predated June 6, 2003, as shown by the fact that the plaintiff was already experiencing joint pain by that time. Thus, even if Zaso departed from the accepted standard of care in failing to test the plaintiff for strep throat on June 6, 2003, that failure did not proximately cause the injuries that she has alleged in this action, namely, rheumatic fever manifested by Sydenham’s chorea and mitral valve regurgitation (see Stukas v. Streiter, 83 AD3d at 23). As to the failure to consider the plaintiff’s history of strep infections and include rheumatic fever in the differential diagnosis, Zaso’s experts opined that there was no departure from the standard of care in light of the fact that the plaintiff did not meet the diagnostic criteria for rheumatic fever, and Zaso thus met his prima facie burden with respect to the departure element (see id.Cham v. St. Mary’s Hosp. of Brooklyn, 72 AD3d at 1004).

In response to the foregoing prima facie showing on the causation element with respect to the failure to test, diagnose, and treat strep throat and the departure element with respect to a failure to consider the history of strep infections and include rheumatic fever in the differential diagnosis, the plaintiff failed to raise any triable issues of fact (see Alvarez v. Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d at 324). First, as to the issue of causation with respect to Zaso’s failure to test, diagnose, and treat strep throat, the plaintiff’s expert did not address Zaso’s experts’ opinions that such failure did not proximately cause the plaintiff’s injuries because the strep infection that triggered the plaintiff’s rheumatic fever predated June 6, 2003 (see Feuer v. Ng, 136 AD3d at 707; Berthen v. Bania, 121 AD3d at 733; Swanson v. Raju, 95 AD3d at 1107; Geffner v. North Shore Univ. Hosp., 57 AD3d at 842). As to the failure to consider the plaintiff’s history of strep infections and include rheumatic fever in the differential diagnosis, the plaintiff’s expert relied on different diagnostic criteria from those relied on by Zaso’s experts and failed specifically to address the diagnostic criteria cited by Zaso’s experts or to opine that such criteria were inapplicable (see Feuer v. Ng, 136 AD3d at 707; Berthen v. Bania, 121 AD3d at 733; Swanson v. Raju, 95 AD3d at 1107; Geffner v. North Shore Univ. Hosp., 57 AD3d at 842). Contrary to the plaintiff’s contention, her expert did not implicitly address the diagnostic criteria cited by Zaso’s experts. The plaintiff’s expert also opined that Zaso should have ordered an anti-strep titer to rule out rheumatic fever, but failed to explain why, if the plaintiff did not meet the diagnostic criteria for rheumatic fever as Zaso’s experts contended, an anti-strep titer to rule out rheumatic fever would have been necessary (see Feuer v. Ng, 136 AD3d at 707; Berthen v. Bania, 121 AD3d at 733; Swanson v. Raju, 95 AD3d at 1107; Geffner v North Shore Univ.

Hosp., 57 AD3d at 842). Accordingly, the plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact in response to Zaso’s prima facie showing that he was entitled to summary judgment, and the Supreme Court should have granted Zaso’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint insofar as asserted against him.

As to Gottlieb and North Shore, the plaintiff alleged that these defendants committed malpractice by failing to obtain a full medical history and failing to test for strep throat, misdiagnosing the plaintiff with benign joint pains, and providing misleading follow-up instructions. Gottlieb and North Shore demonstrated, prima facie, that they did not depart from the accepted standard of care with respect to these allegations (see Stukas v. Streiter, 83 AD3d at 23; Cham v. St. Mary’s Hosp. of Brooklyn, 72 AD3d at 1004). Specifically, their expert, a pediatric rheumatologist, opined that because strep and other infections were common in children, Gottlieb and the staff at North Shore were not required, under the accepted standard of care, to obtain information about the plaintiff’s history of strep infections or to test the plaintiff for strep. This expert further opined that the diagnostic criteria for rheumatic fever included both a prior strep infection and at least one major manifestation. Since the plaintiff had no major manifestations of rheumatic fever on June 13, 2003, according to Gottlieb’s and North Shore’s expert, she could not have been diagnosed with rheumatic fever at that time. Thus, according to their expert, Gottlieb did not deviate from the accepted standard of care in diagnosing the plaintiff with probable benign joint pain and in providing corresponding follow-up instructions. This evidence demonstrated, prima facie, that Gottlieb and North Shore did not depart from the accepted standard of care as alleged by the plaintiff (see Cham v. St. Mary’s Hosp. of Brooklyn, 72 AD3d at 1005). However, Gottlieb’s and North Shore’s showing with respect to the causation element of medical malpractice was conclusory and insufficient to meet their prima facie burden on that element (see Winegrad v. New York Univ. Med. Ctr., 64 NY2d at 853; Stukas v. Streiter, 83 AD3d at 23).

In opposition, the plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact, as her expert’s opinion “was of no probative value” (Feuer v. Ng, 136 AD3d at 707). Gottlieb and North Shore correctly contend that the plaintiff’s expert, a pediatrician and neonatologist, did not lay the requisite foundation to render an opinion on Gottlieb’s actions as a rheumatologist (see Behar v. Cohen, 21 AD3d at 1047). Contrary to the plaintiff’s contention, her allegations against these defendants were based not on Gottlieb having improperly treated strep throat, but on his alleged failure to conduct a proper rheumatological exam, failure to diagnose rheumatic fever, and improper follow-up instructions in light of the misdiagnosis. The plaintiff’s expert did not specify in his affirmation whether he had any specific training or expertise in rheumatology or state that he had familiarized himself with the relevant literature or otherwise set forth how he was, or became, familiar with the applicable standards of care in this specialized area of practice (see id. at 1046). Accordingly, the plaintiff’s expert’s opinion was of no probative value and was insufficient to defeat Gottlieb’s and North Shore’s prima facie showing, and the Supreme Court should have granted their motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint insofar as asserted against them (see Feuer v. Ng, 136 AD3d at 707).

MASTRO, J.P., CHAMBERS, MILLER and MALTESE, JJ., concur.

Leave a Comment March 31, 2017

Motion Denied Because of Expert Witness Testimony

Originally published in The New York Law Journal an ALM Media publication, March 13, 2017.

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

  • Supreme Court, Nassau County, IAS Part 7
  • 601626/2014
  • Justice Arthur M. Diamond
  • For Plaintiff: For Plaintiffs: Kushnick Pallaci, PLLC.
  • For Defendant: For Defendants: Foran Glennon Palandech Ponzi & Rudloff, PC.

Cite as: Percora v. Bankers Standard Ins. Co., 601626/2014, NYLJ 1202780991401, at *1 (Sup., NA, Decided March 1, 2017)

CASENAME

Frank Percora and Lisa Percora, Plaintiff v. Bankers Standard Insurance Co., ACE Private Risk Services, Defendants

601626/2014

Justice Arthur M. Diamond

Decided: March 1, 2017

ATTORNEYS

For Plaintiffs: Kushnick Pallaci, PLLC.

For Defendants: Foran Glennon Palandech Ponzi & Rudloff, PC.

The following papers having been read on this motion:

Notice of Motion 1

Opposition 2

Reply 3

 

Defendants herein move for summary judgment to dismiss the Plaintiffs’ complaint pursuant to CPLR §3212. Plaintiffs oppose the instant application. After consideration, Defendants’ motion is denied in its entirety.

The proponent of a summary judgment motion must make a prima facie showing of entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, tendering sufficient evidence to demonstrate the absence of any material issues of fact. Alvarez v. Prospect Hospital, 68 NY2d 320, 508 NYS2d 923 (1968). To make a prima facie showing, the motion must be supported by affidavit, by a copy of the pleadings and by other available proof, such as depositions and written admissions. Id. Once a prima facie showing has been made, the burden shifts to the party opposing the motion for summary judgment to produce evidentiary proof in admissible form sufficient to establish the existence of material issues of fact which require a trial of the action. Id.; see also Zuckerman v. City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 427 NYS2d 595 (1980).

Summary judgment is the procedural equivalent of a trial and must be denied if any doubt exists as to a triable issue or where a material issue of fact is arguable. Rivers v. Birnbaum, 102 AD3d 26, 953 NYS2d 232 (2nd Dept., 2012). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the function of the Court is not to determine issues of fact or credibility, but merely to determine whether such issues exist. Id. at 42, 243.

In general, it is the insured’s burden to establish coverage and the insurer’s burden to prove the applicability of an exclusion. Great American Restoration Services, Inc. v. Scottsdale Insurance Co., 78 AD3d 773, 911 NYS2d 142 (2nd Dept., 2010). An exclusion from coverage must be specific and clear and any ambiguity must be construed most strongly against the insurer. Id at 776, 142. The test for ambiguity is whether the language is susceptible of two reasonable interpretations, and the focus of the test is on the reasonable expectations of the average insured. Id. at 776, 142-143.

The action before the Court arises out of damage to Plaintiffs’ home in Long Beach, New York, as the result of Superstorm Sandy. Plaintiffs’ complaint has a single cause of action for breach of contract. The allegations in the complaint refer to damage to Plaintiffs’ home solely caused by the high winds of the storm, only. The interrogatories of Plaintiffs attached to Defendants’ moving papers acknowledge that they did not have a flood insurance policy in place at the time the alleged damage was sustained to their home.

Defendants’ motion for summary judgment to dismiss the complaint is based upon the premise that all of the damage to Plaintiffs’ home as a result of the storm was caused by water, which is excluded from coverage under the policy. In support of this position, Defendants attach excerpts of depositions transcripts taken of Plaintiff Frank, as well as three expert witnesses disclosed by Plaintiffs during discovery. None of these transcripts are in their completed form and all have had pages from the transcript removed prior to submission herein. Defendants have not attached an affidavit or a complete deposition transcript such that would allow the Court to consider their papers to be sufficient to consider judgment as a matter of law. By reasons of this defect, the Defendants’ request is appropriately denied in its entirety. See Mazzarelli v. 54 Plus Realty Corp., 54 AD3d 1008, 864 NYS2d 554 (2nd Dept., 2008); see also generally Marks v. Robb, 90 AD3d 863, 935 NYS2d 593 (2nd Dept., 2011).

Even assuming, arguendo, that Defendants did properly include full copies of certified depositions transcripts of the Plaintiff and/or any one of its experts, Defendants motion still cannot be granted. It appears uncontroverted by the papers that Plaintiffs did not have flood insurance for the subject property; moreover, nowhere in Plaintiffs’ opposition papers do plaintiffs suggest that damage caused by water should be covered under the policy, as the exclusion clause for water is clear. Instead, Plaintiffs argue that the damage asserted that is part of the denial of coverage by Defendants was for wind damage, which is clearly covered under the policy terms.

In reviewing the complete transcript of Plaintiffs’ expert witness Boccia, as well as the complete transcript of expert witness Wallwork, both attached to Plaintiffs’ opposition papers, there are triable issues of fact that are certainly outstanding. For example, Defendants in their moving papers suggest that both of these witnesses acknowledge that the damage to the home of Plaintiffs was caused by water only. However, the completed transcript of Mr. Boccia on pages 62 through 69 make clear that damage can be attributed to wind, or water, or both, and that damage, such as racking, can be attributed to wind alone regardless of the water damage that may have occurred to the home. Similarly, Mr. Wallwork testified that he too was able to parse out damage cause by wind alone versus damage caused by water either in whole or in part. For this reason, granting of summary judgment to Defendants would be improper, and the instant motion is hereby denied.

Given the foregoing, the parties are directed to appear as scheduled in the DCM Trial Part of Supreme Court, Nassau County, on March 30, 2017 at 9:30 am.

This hereby constitutes the decision and order of this Court.

Dated: March 1, 2017

Original Source: http://www.newyorklawjournal.com/id=1202780991401?keywords=expert+witness&slreturn=20170210091937 

Leave a Comment March 10, 2017

The Benighted Expert: Professional Literature in Court

Originally published for:  New York Law Journal

By: Timothy M. Tippins

From questions of property values in equitable distribution litigation to the psychological issues in custody cases, the domestic relations courts are awash in expertise, both real and contrived. It falls to the trial advocate to present the information that the court needs so that it can distinguish reliable testimony from the ersatz expertise that too often slithers into the courtroom.

One long-entrenched method of doing so is impeachment by treatise1 which consists of confronting the witness with published writings of respected figures in the field that contradict the expert’s testimony in some respect. Perhaps because this technique has been around for so long it tends to eclipse the broader importance of professional literature in measuring both the admissibility of and the weight to be accorded to an expert’s testimony. This article will examine the central position that professional literature occupies in the psychology expert’s world and its crucial evidentiary role in providing the very basis underlying expert opinions.

Impeachment by Treatise

The impeachment by treatise rule allows the cross-examiner to confront the expert witness with writings of other experts that purportedly contradict the position of the expert on the stand. Before being allowed to do so, however, the cross-examiner must first lay the required foundation by extracting from the witness a concession that either (1) the expert relied upon the work at hand or (2) the texts at hand are “recognized by the profession as standard authorities.”2 This foundational requirement, of course, empowers the witness to frustrate the cross-examination simply by refusing to concede that the writing is authoritative.

This power can be and is abused. Experts at times tender absurd denials of the standing of a respected work to evade proper exploration of their positions. Indeed, books written to assist the expert through the courtroom thicket sometimes suggest that the expert should rarely if ever concede the authoritative status of any text.3 Taken literally this would be equivalent to an evidence professor denying that Wigmore on Evidence is an authority in the field.

Some experts follow this course of action to a fault. One “expert” in infectious disease apotheosized this artifice when he testified “that he did not consider any books or articles in the field of infectious diseases ‘authoritative.’”4 Absorb that statement for a moment. It is tantamount to proclaiming, “I don’t hold with no book-learnin’.” It demands, of course, the next question: If not from the authoritative literature of the field, then from what source did this expert acquire his or her expertise?

Very recently a decision was reported wherein an expert, when asked from what source he derived the methodology that provided the underlying basis of his opinion, answered: from “my head.”5 Leaving aside for the moment the possibility that he was confused as to which anatomical hollow was the true cradle of his expertise, the question such an answer irresistibly invites is how the expert knowledge arrived in his cranial cavity in the first place.

The Basis of Expertise

To appreciate fully the incongruity of such flippant answers, one must consider them in the context of established evidence doctrine. Except in those relatively rare instances where the expert is testifying entirely on the basis of his or her own research, the expertise which he or she purports to bring to court necessarily depends upon the professional literature of the field. Recognition of this fundamental point is precisely why the law tolerates a hearsay basis with respect to the expert’s knowledge of the field. As the celebrated John Henry Wigmore wrote a century ago:

It would be absurd to deny judicial standing to such knowledge, because all scientific data must be handed down from generation to generation by hearsay, and each student can hope to test only a trifling fraction of scientific truth by personal experience.6

Thus, if the expert’s contention that there are no authoritative writings in his field were true, it would be time for him to depart the courtroom without another word spoken.

While some species of expertise can be acquired by experience alone, e.g., an antiques dealer who testifies to value based on decades of first-hand market transactions, others depend upon formal education, degrees, board certifications and the like. Psychology falls into this latter category.

A Scientific Discipline

Psychology defines itself as a scientific discipline. Every Psychology 101 textbook will contain a statement such as: “Psychology is the science of behavior and mental processes.”7 Consequently, to qualify as an expert in psychology one is required to have adequate formal credentials in this scientific field and, once so qualified, is expected to base his conclusions on the scientific knowledge of that discipline. That the expert must predicate his conclusions on the collective knowledge of his discipline is axiomatic. It was acknowledged by the U.S. Supreme Court in its landmark decision in Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharmaceuticals.

Unlike an ordinary witness, an expert is permitted wide latitude to offer opinions, including those that are not based on firsthand knowledge or observation. Presumably, this relaxation of the usual requirement of firsthand knowledge…is premised on an assumption that the expert’s opinion will have a reliable basis in the knowledge and experience of his discipline.8

Reliance upon the collective knowledge of the discipline, i.e., the professional literature, is the sine qua non of expert opinion formulation. It is precisely this that distinguishes an admissible expert opinion from an inadmissible personal opinion. This most fundamental of principles is recognized within the field of forensic psychology:

The defining attributes of an expert opinion relate…to the procedures that were employed in formulating the opinion and the body of knowledge that forms the foundation upon which those procedures were developed. If the accumulated knowledge of the expert’s field was not utilized, the opinion expressed is not an expert opinion. It is a personal opinion, albeit one being expressed by an expert.9

Given that most custody evaluators do not conduct their own research they must necessarily rely upon the studies of others as reported in the professional literature. Therefore, it is against this professional knowledge base that the validity of their testimony must be measured. If the witness has based an opinion on neither first-hand research nor the professional literature of the discipline, the opinion ought to be rejected.

Suppose, for example, that a custody evaluator observes that one of the parents exhibited behaviors “A,” “B” and “C” and from these data-points concludes that the parent suffers from depression. The initial crucial question is whether that conclusion is supported by the empirical research reported in the professional literature.10 If only some idiosyncratically crafted paradigm of the individual witness supports his conclusion, what is at hand is an inadmissible personal opinion, not an expert conclusion. Such idiosyncratic assumptions or methodologies, not having been tested in the field and lacking general acceptance, should not even survive a Frye11 challenge. Even if the threshold issue of admissibility is ignored such an opinion ought to be given no weight.

The critical question, therefore, is to what extent are the expert’s conclusions supported by the literature? Perhaps even more fundamentally, to what extent is the witness even familiar with the published writings of the field? The trial lawyer will likely find these lines of inquiry fruitful. Reported research suggests that relatively few experts consider the literature in their practices. In one study, 27 percent of clinicians interviewed stated that “no empirical study had affected their work” and not a single “psychologist was able to identify a specific study or a specific instance of research use.”12 Given psychology’s self-declared status as a science, such a cavalier disregard of the expert knowledge base is nothing short of astonishing.

Custody Evaluators

The professional literature occupies a central position in the proper conduct of a custody assessment. The ethical and practice standards of the mental health profession require custody evaluators to keep current with and to use scientific knowledge in carrying out their forensic assignments.

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct state:

Psychologists’ work is based upon established scientific and professional knowledge of the discipline.13

The APA Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations state:

Although psychologists take care to acquire sufficient knowledge, skill, experience, training, and education prior to conducting a child custody evaluation, this acquisition is never complete. An evolving and up-to-date understanding of child and family development, child and family psychopathology, the impact of relationship dissolution on children, and the specialized child custody literature is critical to sustaining competent practice in this area.14

Likewise the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts’ Model Standards of Practice for Child Custody Evaluation instruct that:

A child custody evaluator shall have specialized knowledge and training in topics related to child custody work and shall keep abreast of the ever evolving research in the field.15

Clearly, the profession itself recognizes that the scientific literature is the touchstone for the formulation of psychological conclusions. Thus, to properly assess the expert’s conclusions, one must look to the published writings. Significantly, what is not there is as important as that which is because the burden rests upon the expert to offer up the empirical research that reflects general acceptance in the scientific community of the principles or methods upon which each inference rests.16 Such burden placement is consistent with scientific practice:

A basic tenet of science is that the burden of proof always falls squarely on the claimant, not the critic. Consequently, it is up to the proponents of these techniques to demonstrate that they work, not up to the critics of these techniques to demonstrate the converse.17

In other words if the evaluator searches the professional library and, like Mother Hubbard, finds the cupboard bare, then he or she should not opine at all on the particular issue. To disregard the absence of scientific knowledge or to ignore contrary research runs afoul of the ethical and practice standards of the profession and results in the presentation of shoddy, unreliable work-product.

Conclusion

The professional literature of the expert’s discipline must be the anchor of his or her opinions. When expert witnesses deny the respected status of all or virtually all existing literature, such denials raise critical questions as to intellectual integrity of their conclusions. Accordingly, it behooves attorneys to master the literature of that expert’s discipline and be positioned to use it in court both through cross-examination and by presenting expert rebuttal testimony establishing the true status of the texts in question.

Endnotes:

1. People v. Feldman, 299 N.Y. 153, 85 N.E.2d 913 (1949); see also, Hastings v. Chrysler Corp., 273 A.D. 292, 294, 77 N.Y.S.2d 524 (1st Dept. 1948); Ithier v. Solomon, 59 A.D.2d 935, 399 N.Y.S.2d 450 (2d Dept. 1977); Mark v. Colgate, 53 A.D.2d 884, 385 N.Y.S.2d 621 (2d Dept. 1976).

2. People v. Feldman, 299 N.Y. 153, 85 N.E.2d 913 (1949); see also, Hastings v. Chrysler Corp., 273 A.D. 292, 294, 77 N.Y.S.2d 524 (1st Dept. 1948); Ithier v. Solomon, 59 A.D.2d 935, 399 N.Y.S.2d 450 (2d Dept. 1977); Mark v. Colgate, 53 A.D.2d 884, 385 N.Y.S.2d 621 (2d Dept. 1976).

3. Brodsky, S.L., Hendricson, S., “Testifying in Court: Guidelines and Maxims for the Expert Witness,” pp. 119-123 (APA, 1991).

4. Lipschitz v. Stein,10 A.D.3d 634, 636, 781 N.Y.S.2d 773 (1st Dept. 2004) [italics added].

5. Toomey v. MillerCoors, — F.Supp.3d —, 2015 WL 667508 (E.D.N.Y.), NYLJ Feb. 27, 2015.

6. John Henry Wigmore, Greenleaf on Evidence,(16th Ed. Rev.), §430(l), p. 529 (The Lawbook Exchange, 2001).

7. Morris, C.G., Maisto, A.A., “Psychology: An Introduction,” (Prentice Hall, 2002), p. 4 (Italics added)

8. 509 U.S. 579, 592, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993) (Italics added); This is a fundamental evidentiary principle concerning expert testimony and is not dependent upon whether one is a Daubert jurisdiction.

9. Martindale, D.M., “Cross-examining Mental Health Experts In Child Custody Litigation,” The Journal of Psychiatry & Law, 29/Winter 2001, 483-511

10. Even assuming that the diagnostic conclusion is supported by research the next critical inquiry is whether there is research demonstrating that there is a nexus between the diagnosis and the question of parenting capacity. Without such a nexus, the diagnosis is not relevant.

11. Frye v. United States, 54 App.D.C. 46, 47, 293 F. 1013, 1014 (1923).

12. Cohen, L.H., Sargent, M.M., Sechrest, L.B., “Use of Psychotherapy Research by Professional Psychologists,” American Psychologist, February 1986 Vol. 41, No. 2, 198-206 (1996).

13. Ethical Principles Of Psychologists And Code Of Conduct, §2.04, American Psychological Association, (2002).

14. Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Family Law Proceedings, §4, American Psychologist, December 2010.

15. Model Standards of Practice for Child Custody Evaluation , §1.1, Family Court Review, Vol. 45 No. 1, January 2007 pp. 70–91.

16. People v. Wesley, 83 N.Y.2d 417, 442, 633 N.E.2d 451, 611 N.Y.S.2d 97 (1994); see also, People v. Angelo, 88 N.Y.2d 217, 666 N.E.2d 1333, 644 N.Y.S.2d 460 (1996).

17. Lilienfeld, Lynn & Lohr, “Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology,” Guilford Press, 2003, p. 3.
Original Source: http://www.newyorklawjournal.com/id=1202719630250/The-Benighted-Expert-Professional-Literature-in-Court#ixzz3TcrbI78D

Leave a Comment March 6, 2015


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