In its unpublished opinion filed on April 13, 2017, the State of Michigan Court of Appeals (“Michigan Appellate Court”) affirmed the trial court’s order granting summary disposition in favor of the defendants in a Michigan medical malpractice wrongful death case because the plaintiff’s medical expert’s opinion regarding proximate cause was inadmissible under Michigan’s rules of evidence.
The Underlying Facts
The decedent went for a medical checkup on September 2, 2010. The decedent had a history of cigarette smoking and recent complaints of back and joint pain. The examining physician diagnosed the decedent with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and osteoarthritis, and ordered x-rays of the decedent’s chest, which were reviewed by the defendant radiologist who interpreted the decedent’s chest x-ray to show “mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disease without evidence of pneumonia or pulmonary vascular congestion.”
Subsequently, on December 12, 2011, the decedent went to a local hospital with complaints of nausea and abdominal pain. A CT scan of the decedent’s chest indicated a large mass in his lower right lung lobe, which was consistent with cancer, in addition to the involvement of the lymph nodes and adrenal glands. Following his hospitalization, the decedent was diagnosed with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer. It was determined that the decedent was not a viable candidate for surgical resection due to the advanced stage of the disease. Despite chemotherapy treatment, the decedent’s prognosis was deemed to be poor. The decedent died of lung cancer on June 22, 2012.
The decedent’s estate filed a Michigan medical malpractice lawsuit in which it alleged that the defendant radiologist failed to identify an abnormal density that was present in the right lung that was suspicious for lung cancer. The trial court determined after a two-day hearing that the proximate cause opinion of the plaintiff’s sole medical expert was inadmissible because the expert’s method of extrapolating pathologic staged cancer survival rates to the decedent, in the admitted absence of pathologic information necessary for this form of cancer staging (i.e., pathologic staging could not be performed where the decedent’s tumor was not surgically removed), did not meet the requirements of MRE 702 and MCL 600.2955.
Despite the absence of the requisite data to perform pathologic staging, the plaintiff’s expert opined that the decedent’s cancer was at pathologic stage I or II in September of 2010, basing his opinion on the aggressive growth of the tumor leading to the decedent’s death in June 2012. The expert then applied the survival rates associated with pathologic staging to opine that the decedent would have benefited from a greater than 50% survival rate had he been properly diagnosed and treated in September 2010.
The Michigan Appellate Court held that the trial court correctly concluded that the plaintiff was unable to demonstrate that its expert’s opinion was premised on reliable scientific principles or methods, and that he reliably applied those principles to the facts of this case, as required by MRE 702: the plaintiff did not proffer supporting evidence or documentation demonstrating that the method employed by its expert was accepted in the scientific or medical community for cancer staging (i.e., there was lack of support for the expert’s methodology of applying pathologic survival rates where the decedent’s tumor was not surgically removed).
Therefore, the Michigan Appellate Court held that the trial court correctly concluded that the plaintiff’s expert’s testimony was not admissible, where it was not the product of reliable principles and methods, and where the expert did not reliably apply his cited principles and methods to the facts of this case.
Source Estate of Donny Peyton v. Novi Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, PLLC, No. 329890.
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