The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland (“Maryland Appellate Court”), which is Maryland’s intermediate appellate court, affirmed the Plaintiff’s medical malpractice verdict in its unreported opinion dated March 15, 2021, finding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting the plaintiff’s motion in limine to preclude the defendant from questioning her expert regarding his discipline by a voluntary organization from which he voluntarily resigned.
The trial court stated with respect to the plaintiff’s motion in limine, “The court finds that the fact that Doctor Lustgarten was disciplined by a voluntary organization that had no impact on his licensure is not relevant to this case, it does not go to his credibility, and any questions about it would be prejudicial. So, therefore, plaintiff’s motion in limine is granted. The defendant is not to question Doctor Lustgarten about the discipline. However, if he somehow opens the door, the court will revisit its ruling.”
The Underlying Facts
Mrs. Bent (plaintiff) presented to Dr. Sethi (defendant) with complaints of low back pain, radiating into her left buttock and down the left leg and foot. In July 2014, after several examinations, including MRI scans, Dr. Sethi recommended both a laminectomy and a bilateral laminectomy — in effect, a recommendation of surgery on both the left and right side of the spine, even though Mrs. Bent had no symptoms on the right side. Surgery was performed in August 2014. Post-surgery, Mrs. Bent experienced both physical and neurological pain and disability. As a result, a Maryland medical malpractice lawsuit was filed based on allegations that surgery to the right side of her spine was not consented to and was performed unnecessarily in violation of the applicable standards of care.
Dr. Lustgarten, at the time of trial, was a board-certified neurological surgeon with more than 40 years’ experience. He was offered and qualified at trial as the plaintiff’s only expert witness on the applicable standard of care. During his professional life, Dr. Lustgarten maintained membership in the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), a voluntary professional association, for 20 years from 1981 until the early 2000’s. During the years of his AANS membership, Dr. Lustgarten had been twice subjected to six-month suspensions from the organization. The plaintiff asserted that, in each instance, the suspension resulted from expert testimony he had offered on behalf of plaintiffs in two medical malpractice litigations. After completion of his second AANS suspension, Dr. Lustgarten resigned from his membership.
Maryland Appellate Court Opinion
The Maryland Appellate Court held with regard to the trial court granting the plaintiff’s motion in limine: “we find no departure from reason, nor do we find that it was against the logic and effects of the facts before the court. We hold, therefore, that the trial court fulfilled its obligation to consider whether prejudice created by admission of the evidence would outweigh the probative value of the evidence before ruling. On this record, we find no abuse of discretion.”
Source Sethi v. Bent, No. 921 September Term, 2019.
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