The recent decision in Iacangelo v. Georgetown University, ___ F. Supp.2d ___, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46416 (D.D.C. June 17, 2008), hasn’t gotten much play in the press.
For good reason.
It was written by a magistrate judge, doesn’t give too much of a sense of the underlying facts, and stands for a relatively unremarkable proposition.
But if we took the time to read the !@*!! thing, then we’re going to inflict it on you.
And it does relate to an issue that’s dear to our hearts — the admissibility of expert opinions on questions of law.
And we’ll keep this post mercifully short.
The parents of an incapacitated adult brought medical malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, and failure to warn claims against health care providers. Plaintiffs pleaded that defendants “breached an alleged guaranteed rate of success of the medical procedure employed by Defendants.” Id. at *2. (Those were either awfully stupid doctors or lying plaintiffs. We weren’t there, so we can’t tell you which.) Plaintiffs also pleaded negligence per se claims based on alleged violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Id.
We can’t quite figure out what medical procedure the defendants performed on the patient. But it sounds like a doozy: The medical devices involved were allegedly “illegal,” “unapproved,” and “the subject of an Import Act.” Id. at *13-*14.
Although plaintiffs did not plead a claim for legal malpractice, they asserted that using unapproved devices “without both an IDE and IRB approval” violated the standard of care. Id. at *13. The hospital purportedly should have performed due diligence, learned the FDA status of the devices, and protected the patient appropriately. Id. Plaintiffs offered expert witnesses who gave legal opinions about the propriety of the defendants’ legal conduct to establish that the treating physician committed medical malpractice.
The trial court excluded the expert testimony. “[T]here is no claim for legal malpractice or any supporting theory that a patient can sue her physician’s lawyer for legal malpractice.” Id. at *17. Moreover, “[i]n attempting to use legal experts to prove that liability and causation have been established and to interpret statutory language, Plaintiffs would effectively usurp the function of the trier of fact.” Id. at *18.
This case is neither the cleanest nor strongest example we’ve seen of courts excluding testimony on questions of law, but it adds to the list of precedents on that point.
Now that we’ve posted about it, perhaps you won’t lose this case in that folder of old opinions stuck in your file drawer.