Stringent Standard for Admitting Medical Expert Testimony in Alabama

Hegarty v. Hudson, 2013 WL 1364686 (Ala.)

In this April 5 decision, the Alabama Supreme Court interpreted a statutory requirement that an expert who comes to court to support a malpractice suit against a physician must be “similarly situated” to that physician in the line of practice.

This interpretation was needed for the following set of facts:

The plaintiff arranged with a board-certified family practitioner to deliver her baby through a C-section. The family practitioner carried out the C-section and delivered the baby, but he wasn’t able to locate and remove the placenta that detached from the baby’s umbilical cord. The plaintiff consequently required an additional surgery to remove the placenta from her abdomen. Before that surgery, she sustained severe abdominal pain and dramatic weight loss.

Her malpractice suit against the family practitioner was supported by a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist. This specialist came to court to testify that it was malpractice on the defendant’s part to close the plaintiff’s incision without retrieving the placenta. The Alabama Supreme Court ruled that board-certified ob-gyns and board-certified family practitioners belong to different specialties. Both types of doctors deliver babies and perform C-sections, but they are still not “similarly situated,” contrary to the Alabama statute. Hence, the ob-gyn’s testimony was not admissible: he was not an eligible expert witness to support the plaintiff’s suit against a board-certified family practitioner.

I can’t argue against the Alabama statute and its interpretation by the ultimate insider to Alabama law. That said, could the plaintiff not rely on the res ipsa loquitur presumption? Does the ABFM has a standard that could vindicate the defendant?