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Litigation Today
Opinion of medical expert on causation should have been admitted under Frye.
by Karl Tegland
April 23, 2013

In a recent dispute arising out of medical and caretaker services, P fell from a wheelchair while attending church. At the time, P was 86 years old and was accompanied by a caregiver (CG) employed by D. Three days later, P suffered an ruptured aneurism.* P claimed that his fall and the resulting ruptured aneurism were due the negligence of CG and D.

D moved for summary judgment. As might be expected, the medical experts for P and D disagreed on the issue of causation. P’s experts all stated by way of declaration that P’s fall was, more likely than not, the cause of P’s ruptured aneurism. D’s experts came to the opposite conclusion, saying that the ruptured aneurism was a medical coincidence and was not related to P’s fall.

The trial court excluded the declarations of P’s experts on the issue of causation and granted summary judgment for D. The trial court ruled that the opinions of P’s experts on causation were inadmissible under the Frye rule, which requires that an expert’s testimony be based upon a generally accepted theory or method.

P appealed, arguing that the opinions of his experts should have been admitted, and if they had been admitted, D would not have been entitled to summary judgment.

The essence of P’s argument on appeal was that (1) the fact that experts for P and D reached different conclusions from essentially the same medical records does not imply that either P’s experts or D’s experts must have employed a flawed theory or method under Frye; (2) the Frye rule was not even in the picture because there was nothing novel or unusual about the underlying theory – that a fall or other physical trauma can cause an aneurism to rupture; and (3) the contrary opinions of P’s experts and D’s experts created an genuine issue of material fact on the issue of causation, precluding summary judgment.

The Court of Appeals agreed with P on all counts and reversed. The court said Frye was out of the picture because the opinions of all of the experts, for P and D, were based upon the virtually undebatable theory that rapid deceleration and shearing forces can cause an aneurism to rupture. The only question in the present case was whether P’s fall did cause P’s aneurism to rupture, or whether the rupture was just a coincidence. This, the court said, was an issue for a jury to decide. Advanced Health Care, Inc. v. Guscott, __Wn.App.__, 295 P.3d 816 (2013) (Div.2, Hunt, J.).

*Court’s spelling.

Note - The articles reprinted here are excerpted from Karl Tegland’s monthly newsletter, Litigation Today. Each issue of Litigation Today includes Mr. Tegland’s commentary and practice tips in the areas of evidence, civil procedure, appellate procedure, and the right to confrontation. Each issue also includes an in-depth essay on a selected topic, as well as complete coverage of all rule amendments and citations to leading law review articles from the preceding month.

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