The Perils of "Free" Experts and Their Testimony

Oftentimes, practitioners will get lazy. They will seek to use the treating physician as the expert in their case. This is typically the case when the issue of causation seems clear. However, intuition and surmise are not enough to survive a summary judgment motion . . . at least not in the federal courts. In a recent opinion, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. In Williams v. Mast Biosurgery USA, Inc., No. 7:08-CV-114(HL), 2010 WL 2104955 (M.D. Ga. May 24, 2010), the court found that the plaintiff’s case must be dismissed for her failure to present evidence that the product was defective.

The plaintiff in Williams had undergone an exploratory laparotomy procedure conducted by Dr. David W. Adcock, II. Williams at*1. The purpose of the procedure was to remove adhesions that had formed after a prior surgery. Id. During the procedure, Dr. Adcock utilized a product, SurgiWrap, to “prevent future adhesions and to enhance Plaintiff’s likelihood of conception.” Id. Approximately two months after this procedure, the plaintiff developed pain in her sides as was admitted to the hospital whereupon a colonoscopy revealed the plaintiff had a perforated colon. Id. The physician that performed the procedure to repair the plaintiff’s perforated colon, “discovered and removed several pieces of ‘pliable’ plastic.” Id. The plaintiff then brought suit against the manufacturer of SurgiWrap upon a theory of strict liability. She contended that the product was defective since it did not properly dissolve inside her body. Id. On the issue of causation, the plaintiff sought to utilize Dr. Adcock (the physician that utilized the product at issue during the first surgery), Dr. George E. Yared (the physician that performed the colonoscopy), Dr. Robert Brown (the physician that repaired her colon) and Dr. Robert Nelms, Jr. (the pathologist that examined the removed pieces of plastic from the plaintiff’s body) to establish that the removed pieces of plastic were in fact SurgiWrap and that the product was defective. Id.

The defendant filed a Motion to Exclude Plaintiff’s Expert Testimony, and these physicians were prevented from testifying regarding the identification of the product and whether the product failed to operate as intended by the manufacturer. Furthermore, three of the physicians were prevented from testifying on the issue of causation. Id. The court essentially found that these physicians did not have the requisite familiarity with the product at issue in order to testify that the product was defective and that the alleged defect caused the plaintiff’s injury. Id. at*1-2.
There are multiple lessons to be learned from this case. First, if you represent a plaintiff in a products case you should be wary of settling for the treating physicians to establish the prima facie case. Second, and most importantly, if you a representing a manufacturer don’t give up so easily. The physician that is trained to utilize your surgical device may not be qualified to sufficiently identify the product, much less testify that it is defective. Daubert challenges to treating physicians are always worth the effort.

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