The Court of Appeals of Maryland (“Appellate Court”), Maryland’s highest appellate court, ruled on October 16, 2015 that the lower court erred when it granted summary judgment to the defendant landlord in a Maryland lead paint case when the lower court found that the plaintiff’s expert, who was the child’s pediatrician, was not qualified to provide an expert opinion as to medical causation.
The Court of Appeals stated that the issue before it was whether a pediatrician, who has never treated a child victim of lead paint poisoning but claims to have read the relevant medical literature (or some representative and meaningful portion of it), should be permitted to offer an opinion as to medical causation that would be of some benefit to a lay fact-finder.
Maryland’s Law On Expert Testimony
The Appellate Court cited Maryland Rule 5-702, which states that expert testimony may be admitted, in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if the court determines that the testimony will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue. In making that determination, the court shall determine (1) whether the witness is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, (2) the appropriateness of the expert testimony on the particular subject, and (3) whether a sufficient factual basis exists to support the expert testimony.
The Appellate Court stated that a witness may be competent to express an expert opinion if he or she is reasonably familiar with the subject under investigation, regardless of whether this special knowledge is based upon professional training, observation, actual experience, or any combination of these factors – an expert witness’ opinion is expected to give the jury assistance in solving a problem for which their equipment of average knowledge is inadequate.
The Appellate Court stated that under Md. Rule 5-702, an expert witness who proposes to testify on medical injury must base his or her opinion on reliable knowledge, skill, and experience, but is not required necessarily to be a specialist. It may be that a “specialist” who testifies as to certain opinions may receive greater weight by the fact-finder than his or her competing non-specialist, but that is not resolved ordinarily as a threshold matter by a judge. For expert testimony to be admissible, his or her conclusions must be based on a sound reasoning process explaining how the expert arrived at those conclusions.
In the case it was deciding, the Appellate Court held that the plaintiff’s expert may not be the most qualified expert witness on medical causation, but a court’s concern at the summary judgment stage is whether his testimony is admissible. Based on the plaintiff’s expert’s background, affidavit, and deposition, the Appellate Court held that it is apparent that he is competent, under the standards set forth in Md. Rule 5-702, to testify as an expert as to medical causation in this case, and the lower court therefore abused its discretion in finding him unqualified to testify as to medical injury.
However, the Appellate Court also held that with no personal knowledge and his reliance on circumstantial evidence as to how and where the child was exposed to lead paint, the plaintiff’s expert was not shown to be competent on the record to testify as to the source of the child’s exposure (as a board-certified pediatrician, his reliance on circumstantial evidence alone is not enough for him to be deemed competent as an expert on the source of lead – it is not enough for an expert to conclude that a certain property is the source of the child’s exposure to lead when other potential sources have not been eliminated), and therefore it was not an abuse of discretion for the lower court to exclude his testimony on that element.
Source Jakeem Roy v. Sandra B. Dackman, et al., No. 6, September Term, 2015.
If you or a loved one suffered serious injury as a result of lead paint exposure in Baltimore, elsewhere in Maryland, or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a Baltimore lead paint lawyer, a Maryland lead paint lawyer, or a lead paint lawyer in your U.S. state who may investigate your lead paint claim for you and represent you in a lead paint case, if appropriate.
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