The Obligation To Hear Any Qualified Expert Opinion That Is Relevant

In obstetric malpractice case, vacating and remanding trial court's grant of judgment as a matter of law to the defendant because the trial court erroneously excluded testimony by the plaintiff's expert on the applicable professional standard of obstetric care and its relation to causing the plaintiff's injuries; because the expert had appropriate credentials and foundation for proffering an opinion, it was an error not to let the expert present testimony that was relevant to the action in that it would make the existence of any fact of consequence to determination of the action more probable or less probable that it would be without the evidence, in Pages-Ramirez v. Ramirez-Gonzalez, __ F.3d __(1st Cir. May 19, 2010) (No. 08-1831)

One important implication of FRE 702 and the Daubert decision is that proffered expert evidence be found to "fit" the facts or issues in the case. In other words, that the expert testimony be relevant to the issues at trial. Often, in the focus on expert qualification and reliability, the requirement that the expert opinion "fit" the issues in the case receive little attention.

One aspect of whether proffered expert opinion fits the case is whether the expert opinion is relevant, in that it makes the existence of any fact of consequence to determination of the action more probable or less probable that it would be without the evidence under FRE 401. In a recent case the First Circuit noted another aspect of this issue is that once a court has qualified an expert and has satisfied itself as to reliability concerns, the expert witness "must be permitted" to present his testimony as to relevant issues.

In the case, the plaintiffs brought a diversity obstetric malpractice case against defendant Ramirez-Gonzalez, the obstetrician who delivered their son G.P.P. The delivery was not without complications and G.P.P. was found to have brain damage and physical abnormalities, that were "not expected to improve over time." The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant departed from the applicable standard of care during G.P.P's delivery and that this departure resulted in G.P.P.'s "profound multi-organ damage ..., as well as respiratory failure, sepsis, asphyxia and seizures." In the trial before a jury the plaintiffs sought to present medical expert testimony but the trial judge limited this so that the experts would be able to opine on the appropriate standard of care for an obstetrician or whether any deviations from the standard of care caused the injuries that G.P.P. suffered. As a result of these limitations, plaintiff was unable to show the violation of any necessary "standard of care" and therefore causation as a result of that violation. This left the plaintiffs with insufficient evidence to support their claims and so the trial judge granted the defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law. The plaintiffs appealed. Pages-Ramirez, __ F.3d at __.

The First Circuit vacated and remanded. It noted her "credentials easily meet and, indeed, surpass the standard for admissibility of expert testimony." The circuit also found that the witness's had a reliable basis for testifying on the obstetric standard of care and whether G,P,P.'s injuries were caused by that violation of the standard of care. Then the circuit noted the crucial importance of the relevance of the expert's testimony:

"[T]he judge's task is to ensure that the expert's testimony '“both rests on a reliable foundation and is relevant to the task at hand.“' In carrying out this responsibility, the trial court must bear in mind that an expert with appropriate credentials and an appropriate foundation for the opinion at issue must be permitted to present testimony as long as the testimony has a “tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.” Fed.R.Evid. 401. An unduly restrictive review of the relevant expertise of a physician is incompatible with what we have characterized as a liberal standard of relevance. Mitchell, 141 F.3d at 14 (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S. at 587 (noting that Rule 401's “ ‘basic standard of relevance [ ] is a liberal one’ ”).Mooney, 315 F.3d at 62 (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S. at 597, 113 S.Ct. 2786). .Mooney 315 F.3d at 62 (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S. at 597, 113 S.Ct. 2786).

Pages-Ramirez, __ F.3d at __.

The Pages-Ramirez case serves as a reminder that admissibility under FRE 702 and Daubert turns on three findings of whether the expert:

" {H}as “scientific, technical, [and] other specialized knowledge” that “will assist the trier better to understand a fact in issue.” Gaydar, 345 F.3d at 24 (citation omitted). Her knowledge “rests on a reliable foundation,” Mooney, 315 F.3d at 62, i.e., her medical education and many years of experience in the field. Her testimony is “relevant to the task at hand.” Id. Indeed, without Dr. Crawford's testimony on causation and the standard of care, the plaintiffs were unable to present evidence on two elements of their case."

Pages-Ramirez, __ F.3d at __.
Federal Rules of Evidence