A decision by the Supreme Court of the State of Idaho (“Idaho Supreme Court”) on September 19, 2014 is a prime example of the hurdles placed in the path of medical malpractice victims seeking to obtain fair compensation for their serious injuries due to alleged medical negligence. At issue was Idaho Code section 6-1013, which requires that a medical malpractice plaintiff establish the defendant’s failure to meet the applicable standard of health care practice through the testimony of at least one “knowledgeable, competent expert witness.”
Idaho Code section 6-1013 sets forth the required foundation for such testimony: “(a) that such an opinion is actually held by the expert witness, (b) that the said opinion can be testified to with reasonable medical certainty, and (c) that such expert witness possesses professional knowledge and expertise coupled with actual knowledge of the applicable said community standard to which his or her expert opinion testimony is addressed . . . .”
In addition to I.C. Section 6-1013, Rule 56(e) of the Idaho Rules of Civil Procedure imposes additional requirements for the admission of expert testimony in medical malpractice actions: the party offering such evidence must show that it is based upon the witness’ personal knowledge and that it sets forth facts as would be admissible in evidence. The party offering the evidence must also affirmatively show that the witness is competent to testify about the matters stated in his [or her] testimony. Statements that are conclusory or speculative do not satisfy either the requirement of admissibility or competency under Rule 56(e).
Lastly, Idaho Code section 6-1012 requires that the applicable standard of health care practice be established by direct expert testimony, that the medical expert must show that he or she is familiar with the standard of health care practice for the relevant medical specialty, during the relevant timeframe, and in the community where the care was provided, and that the medical expert must explain how he or she became familiar with that standard of care.
Idaho Code section 6-1012 defines “community” as “that geographical area ordinarily served by the licensed general hospital at or nearest to which such care was or allegedly should have been provided.”
The Idaho Supreme Court addressed the meaning of “ordinarily served” in Idaho Code section 6-1012: rather than choosing to define community by means of distance from the nearest licensed general hospital, the legislature chose to define community by reference to the locations from which the patient base of the hospital is derived. If users of the hospital’s services commonly go from one location to the place where the hospital is located, then that location falls within the geographical area which constitutes the community; because people residing at one location may commonly use the services provided by more than one hospital, communities may overlap one another.
In the case it was deciding, the Idaho Supreme Court held that an affidavit that fails to identify an anonymous consultant does not categorically fail to comply with the foundation requirements for admissibility of an out-of-area expert’s testimony under Idaho Code section 6-1013. Rather, the inquiry remains whether the out-of-area expert demonstrates how he or she became adequately familiar with the community standard of health care practice, making it sufficiently clear that the expert consulted with a local specialist who had actual knowledge of the standard of health care practice for the proper class of provider during the relevant time period.
The Idaho Supreme Court held that the lower court applied an erroneous legal standard and therefore erred in concluding that the plaintiff’s medical expert’s affidavit was inadmissible solely because he relied on an unidentified physician to familiarize himself with the community standard of health care practice.
If you may have been injured as a result of medical negligence in Idaho or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a medical malpractice attorney in Idaho or in your state who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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