In its decision issued on December 19, 2014, the Supreme Court of Kentucky (“Kentucky Supreme Court”) held that the defendant physician’s medical license problems were not admissible in the case it was deciding because evidence of collateral misconduct to show a person’s propensity to engage in such conduct is admissible only if (1) it is relevant for a legitimate purpose; (2) it is probative (i.e., only if there is sufficient evidence that the other crime, wrong, or act actually occurred); and (3) its probative value is not substantially outweighed by any prejudicial effect.
The Underlying Facts
A woman was the unrestrained passenger in a pickup truck being driven by her husband at the time the truck left the road and struck a tree. The passenger-side airbag deployed but did not prevent the woman from striking the windshield, which caused her to briefly lose consciousness. She was transported to a local hospital where she underwent a head and neck CT scan. She was subsequently transported to another hospital where the defendant physician was the attending physician in the emergency room.
A chest x-ray was read by the resident as showing blunting to the left costophrenic angle possibly related to effusion or scarring, and a 3.5 cm mass-like density in the left lower lobe which was worrisome for neoplasm (a chest CT scan was recommended for further evaluation). Approximately two and a half hours after arriving in the emergency room, the woman was discharged with instructions to follow-up with her primary care physician. Approximately thirty-six hours later, the woman died at home. An autopsy revealed that she died because of a ruptured aorta related to blunt force trauma to her chest.
The woman’s Estate brought medical malpractice claims against several parties, including the defendant emergency room attending physician. The Estate argued that because the defendant physician was named as an expert for trial and that his knowledge of the standard of care was at issue, the defendant’s medical license issues (i.e., in 2004, the defendant physician was found to have prescribed medications to three people with whom he did not have a physician-patient relationship and for whom he did not have any treatment charts) were relevant to his credibility as an expert witness.
The Kentucky Supreme Court stated that the defendant physician did not testify regarding the appropriate standard of care and he did not refer to outside sources to support his treatment of the woman; thus, he testified primarily as a defendant and fact witness, not as an expert witness. Because the defendant physician did not testify about the standard of care, his knowledge about the appropriate standard of care was not at issue – the issue in a Kentucky medical malpractice case is whether a physician complied with the appropriate standard of care, not whether he knew what that standard was.
The Kentucky Supreme Court held that because the defendant physician did not express an opinion as to the appropriate standard of care and because his licensure problems were not related to his practice as an emergency room physician, evidence of those licensure problems was properly excluded by the trial court as irrelevant.
Source Ira Branham v. Troy C. Rock, M.D., et al., 2012-SC-000707-DG
If you have suffered injury as a result of negligent medical care in a hospital’s emergency room in Kentucky or in an emergency room of a hospital in another U.S. state, you should promptly seek the legal advice of a Kentucky medical malpractice attorney (or a medical malpractice attorney in your state) who may investigate your emergency room malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case involving emergency care, if appropriate.
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