Even in “Complex” Medical Malpractice, Limits on Expert Witnesses OK with the Fifth DCA – Woodson v. Go

July 27, 2015

In Woodson v. Go, Florida’ Fifth District Court of Appeal (“Fifth DCA”) held that even in complex medical malpractice cases, the trial court has broad discretion to place limitations on expert witnesses. The holding represents a self-proclaimed rescission from Lake v. Clark, a 1988 Fifth DCA decision that overturned a trial court’s exclusion of a doctor’s expert witness testimony on standard of care.

The Woodson case involved a Plaintiff who claimed medical malpractice for negligent placement of a cardiac cauterization and failure to timely detect the resulting occlusion. To further his case, the plaintiff sought to call two interventional cardiologists as expert witnesses. The trial court allowed this, but limited one expert to liability only and the other only to causation. The Defendants all denied liability and maintained that they properly met the standard of care. At trial, the Defendants were victorious on liability which prompted the Plaintiff to appeal the final judgment based on the limitation of expert witnesses.

In upholding the verdict for the Defendants, the Fifth DCA held, “…we see no reason to permit litigants in medical malpractice cases to have an almost unfettered right to present cumulative expert witness testimony.” Applying an abuse of discretion standard, the appellate court noted black-letter Florida law that gives trial courts broad discretion in placing limitations on expert witnesses. See Lion Plumbing Supply, Inc. v. Suarez, 844 So. 2d 768, 770 (Fla. 3d DCA 2003); Elder v. Farulla, 768 So. 2d 1155 (Fla. 2d DCA 2000). The court also referenced Fla. Stat 90.612(1)(b), Fla. Stat. 90.403, and Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.200(b)(4), all of which give the trial court the duty and power to limit cumulative testimony, including that of experts, for the purposes of an expedient trial.

To support its position, the Plaintiff fruitlessly attempted to rely on the Lake v. Clark case and argued that medical malpractice cases are particularly complex and thus any limitations on expert testimony should be few and far between. The Plaintiff cited a particular passage of the Lake decision wherein it was held that medical malpractice cases are always a “battle of expert witnesses”, thus, “Within only very broad limits all qualified opinion testimony should be allowed; that is, not disallowed because it is cumulative to other evidence.” In distinguishing Lake, the Fifth DCA noted that the Lake expert witness exclusion was “critical to the plaintiff’s case” whereas in Woodson the Plaintiff was allowed an expert for both liability and causation, thus there was no prejudice.

Another point of note in the Woodson v. Go decision is the appellate court’s criticism of the trial court’s “failure…to notify the parties of its decision to impose restrictions on expert testimony at an earlier time.” The court noted that approximately eleven months before trial, the Defendants had filed a motion to strike Plaintiff’s “cumulative expert testimony” that was never heard. A second motion on this issue, to wit, a Motion in Limine to preclude cumulative testimony, was not heard by the trial court until the morning of trial. The Fifth DCA ruled that the parties are entitled to “fair notice of limitations on expert witness testimony so that they may prepare their case accordingly.” However, the court held that there was no prejudice given the breadth of expert testimony that the Plaintiff ultimately was allowed to put forth, so again the appeal was denied.

If you or a loved one has suffered serious injury due to medical error, you need an attorney who regularly litigates in the complex world of medical malpractice. Call The Grife Law Firm for a free consultation toll-free 855-998-0770