NJ Appellate Court Rules Treating Physician Cannot Testify about Standard of Care
In a recent medical malpractice case brought before a New Jersey Appellate Court, the three-judge panel ruled that a physician who subsequently repaired another doctor’s alleged surgical error, should not have been allowed to testify as to the standard of care in his patient’s medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor who performed the original procedure.
This case, Granovsky v. Chagares, involves 34-year-old New Jersey resident Alexandra Granovsky, who underwent surgery at Monmouth Medical Center to remove her gallbladder in 2009. The general surgeon who performed the procedure, Dr. Stephen Chagares, cut the wrong duct during the surgery, which led to Granovsky’s injury. Although Dr. Chagares did not cite any complications during his post-operative report, he subsquently admitted to cutting the common bile duct at trial.
Just days after the initial procedure, a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, Granovsky was experiencing nausea, vomiting and jaundice. She sought treatment at an emergency room in New York and was transferred to Westchester Medical Center, at which time Dr. Manuel Rodriguez-Davalos performed surgery and identified the source of the symptoms: her common bile duct had been severed. Dr. Rodriguez-Davalos repaired the problem and was called as a witness during the proceeding medical malpractice case against Dr. Chagares.
Standard of Care and Medical Expert Testimony
The specific issue at hand in this case was not whether Dr. Chagares did, in fact, sever the common bile duct, but whether the error represented a complication of the surgery or a deviation from the standard of care. The standard of care is an essential component of any New Jersey medical malpractice case, as the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant’s actions constituted a deviation from the standard of care in order to prove they have grounds for damages. The standard of care is the medical community’s accepted standard protocol as it relates to a specific medical situation, set of symptoms, complication, etc. A deviation from the standard of care is often referred to as negligence.
During legal proceedings, Dr. Rodriguez-Davalos was called as the treating physician, who was to testify as to the facts of the case. During his testimony, he said that cutting the wrong duct in this type of procedure is relatively common, as the ducts are very small and very closely positioned. A judge then ruled that Dr, Rodriguez-Davalos’ testimony about the deviation from standard of care was inadmissible in court.
The case was then brought before a New Jersey Appeals Court, which ruled: “Simply stated, medical malpractice defendants may not use the plaintiff’s treating doctors to provide expert testimony relating to deviation from the standard of care.” The three-judge panel went on to say, “The doctor could certainly testify that the cause of plaintiff’s problem was a severed bile duct. How it happened and why it happened, or that it could have happened to the best of surgeons, however, are beyond the scope of what this fact witness could offer the jury and should not have been permitted.”
Ultimately, New Jersey law allows treating physicians to testify as to the diagnosis and treatment of their patients in medical malpractice cases; however, the NJ Appellate Court affirmed in this case that the treating physician should not be permitted to offer an expert opinion as to the standard of care. The panel ordered a new trial in this specific case, the results of which remain to be seen.
Consult an Experienced New Jersey Medical Malpractice Lawyer
As you can see, medical malpractice law in New Jersey is highly complex, with a constantly evolving body of case law that requires consistent attention and careful study. At Fronzuto Law Group, our firm concentrates on medical malpractice litigation, which allows us to remain at the forefront of current case law in this exceedingly intricate area of practice. Our medical malpractice attorneys have extensive experience investigating the circumstances of specific cases to uncover potential negligence and we call upon renowned medical experts to bolster our clients’ claims. If you or someone you love suffered harm as a result of medical negligence in New Jersey, contact our offices today at 973.435.4551 for an absolutely free consultation.
For additional information pertaining to this case, access the following article: Treating Doctor Can’t Testify on Standard of Care, Court Says