On October 26, 2018, a Pennsylvania medical malpractice jury returned a verdict against two of the defendants, finding that they were negligent and that their medical negligence was a factual cause of harm to the plaintiff. Three other defendants were found by the jury to have not been negligent. The jury determined that one of the defendants was eighty-five percent negligent and the other was fifteen percent negligent. The jury awarded the plaintiff $245,573.28 for past medicals, $1 million for past economic loss, and $3 million for future noneconomic losses.
The plaintiff contended that the trial court erred in denying her motion for a new trial limited to damages because the testimony of Life Care Planner Nurse Dana Bissontz (“Bissontz”) regarding the plaintiff’s future medical expenses was improperly excluded. The trial court had concluded that Bissontz had “no specialized knowledge, skill, experience, training or education relating to kidney transplant patients’ needs” since she never worked with a kidney transplant patient, and therefore was not qualified as an expert on the lifetime needs of a kidney transplant patient. The trial court further ruled that no foundation was laid as to the testing, procedures, and medications that are required for a patient who has undergone a kidney transplant and who likely will require a second kidney transplant.
Life Care Planners
Generally, physicians provide the foundational testimony for the future medical care and treatment that will be necessary. Life care planners research the price of the various procedures, treatments, and medications associated with the future medical care and render expert opinions on the cost to an individual. A life care planner is a recognized expert in Pennsylvania who “reviews medical records and bills to formulate an expert opinion projecting the future medical costs of an individual over her lifetime.”
In its opinion filed on March 19, 2021, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania (“Pennsylvania Appellate Court”) stated: “Bissontz, a certified life care planner with twenty years’ experience as a registered nurse, determined the costs associated with the future medical care that Dr. Mattoo outlined. Nurse Bissontz interviewed Lacey, her parents, reviewed the medical records, referenced numerous sources that provided information about renal disease and coding for kidney transplantation, and prepared an expert report. She calculated the base cost for anticipated services, then the annual cost, and multiplied the latter figure by Lacey’s life expectancy. The expenses included testing, pre-transplant management, future medical care, and medications. Nurse Bissontz prepared a life care plan containing her opinions rendered to a reasonable degree of certainty as a life care planner and registered nurse with twenty years of experience.”
The Pennsylvania Appellate Court held: “We find that Dana Bissontz had sufficient specialized knowledge and experience to offer her expert opinions regarding the future medical expenses associated with post-kidney transplant care and a second kidney transplant anticipated by Dr. Mattoo. The fact that she had little experience with kidney transplant patients did not disqualify her from using her skills and experience to analyze the costs associated with such a procedure and its aftermath. The matter under investigation was not a kidney transplant per se, but the costs associated with such a procedure. The mere fact that Nurse Bissontz had not personally cared for a kidney transplant patient would not hamper her ability to research and accurately tabulate the expenses associated with such a procedure. Any lack of experience with kidney transplants in particular went to the weight of her testimony, not to its admissibility.”
“Nor can we affirm the trial court’s ruling based on a lack of foundation. Nurse Bissontz was excluded after voir dire on qualifications only. She never had the opportunity to explain the factual foundation for her expert opinions. Consequently, we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in precluding Nurse Bissontz from testifying at trial.”
“Since no evidence of damages for future medical expenses was presented, the jury was not instructed on such damages and the verdict slip did not contain lines permitting the jury to assess future damages for medical expenses. We find that damages for future medical expenses are sufficiently independent and discrete from the other damages as to permit a new trial limited to those damages only. Hence, we remand for a new trial limited to damages for future medical expenses.”
Source Povrzenich v. McCracken, 2021 PA Super 46.
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