The Superior Court of Pennsylvania (“Pennsylvania Appellate Court”), in its opinion filed on March 27, 2020, held: “Because Plaintiffs introduced sufficient competent expert testimony that Dr. Galinsky breached the standard of care and Plaintiffs’ failure to prove causation was caused by the trial court’s erroneous evidentiary ruling, the nonsuit in favor of Dr. Galinsky must be reversed.”
Defendant Dr. David Galinksy was the decedent’s primary care doctor and had been so since approximately June 2007. The decedent was 94 years old and weighed approximately 90 pounds when she was admitted to a combined skilled nursing facility and rehabilitation center (“nursing home”), in order to prepare for a total right knee replacement that was scheduled for August 2012. On June 13, 2012, Dr. Galinsky approved a prescription of 0.5 mg of Ativan every 8 hours PRN for the decedent. Subsequently, Dr. Galinksy also prescribed Xanax, Seroquel, and Ativan for the decedent.
On August 4, 2012, a hospital provided information to the nursing home that the decedent had critical levels of sodium deficiency (hyponatremia). Upon receiving the information, another doctor immediately sent the decedent back to the hospital, where she died on August 12, 2012.
On December 8, 2014, the Pennsylvania medical malpractice plaintiffs filed a complaint against the defendants, including Dr. Galinsky, alleging that the negligent prescription of Xanax, Ativan and Seroquel, and the negligence in treating the decedent at the hospital, caused the decedent’s death from pulmonary edema and congestive heart failure. The plaintiffs alleged survival claims on the decedent’s behalf as co-executors of the estate of the decedent, as well as wrongful death claims in their own right.
The trial court granted defendant’s motion for nonsuit as to Dr. Galinsky based on the fact that the plaintiffs’ expert did not use the key language that Dr. Galinsky breached the standard of care “within a reasonable degree of medical certainty.” The plaintiffs argued on appeal that this was error because their expert, in totality, unequivocally expressed his opinion to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that Dr. Galinsky breached the standard of care.
Pennsylvania Appellate Court Opinion
The Pennsylvania Appellate Court stated: “In determining whether the expert’s opinion is rendered to the requisite degree of certainty, we examine the expert’s testimony in its entirety … That an expert may have used less definite language does not render their entire opinion speculative if at some time during his testimony he expressed his opinion with reasonable certainty … Moreover, an expert’s opinion is not deficient purely because he or she failed to use the specific words, “reasonable degree of medical certainty.””
The Pennsylvania Appellate Court stated that the plaintiffs’ expert “did testify that Dr. Galinsky “more likely than not” or “possibly” deviated from the standard of care; he affirmatively stated his opinion that Dr. Galinsky did.” The Pennsylvania Appellate Court held, “It is for the jury to determine the weight to be given to expert testimony in light of the qualifications shown by the expert witness … [the plaintiffs’ expert’s] opinion that Dr. Galinsky breached the standard of care for a geriatric doctor met the requirement that he give his opinion to a reasonable degree of medical certainty; therefore, grant of nonsuit on this ground was error … The trial court’s ruling prevented Plaintiffs from presenting evidence of causation and the nature and extent of the injury to Decedent, including the cause of her death, the manner of her death and even the very fact that she died. Because the Plaintiffs’ absence of evidence on causation and the nature and extent of the injuries to Decedent, including the manner and fact of her death, was caused by the trial court’s erroneous evidentiary ruling, nonsuit cannot be sustained on the ground that Plaintiffs failed to prove causation.”
Source Sonnenfeld v. The Meadows at Shannondale, J-A01033-20.
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