Clarke v. Prenger

Decision Date25 August 1988
Docket NumberNo. 17003,17003
Citation760 P.2d 1182,114 Idaho 766
PartiesVicki CLARKE, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Thomas F. PRENGER, M.D., and Jane Doe Prenger, husband and wife; and Rena A. Yonkosky, M.D., and John Doe Yonkosky, husband and wife, Defendants- Respondents.
CourtIdaho Supreme Court

Hannon, Jenkins & Associates, Coeur d'Alene, Hemovich, Nappi & Oreskovich, Spokane, Wash., for plaintiff-appellant. Carl J. Oreskovich argued.

Quane, Smith, Howard & Hull, Boise, for defendants-respondents. Jeremiah A. Quane argued.

SHEPARD, Chief Justice.

This is an appeal from a summary judgment in favor of defendant physicians in a medical malpractice action. The sole issue presented is whether summary judgment was correctly issued on the basis that the affidavits of plaintiff's expert witness were insufficient to demonstrate familiarity with the local standard of care, and whether plaintiff's expert witness, not being board-certified in the same specialties as were the defendants, was not qualified to express an opinion as to the standard of care incumbent upon the defendant physicians. We reverse.

Since the question presented is so narrow, only a truncated version of the facts is necessary. Defendant Prenger is a board-certified family practitioner in Silverton, Idaho, and upon request he inserted an IUD into plaintiff Clarke. Shortly thereafter Clarke and Prenger were unable to locate the IUD, and Clarke became pregnant. Continued examinations failed to locate the IUD. Plaintiff delivered the child and the IUD was not located. Subsequently, Clarke experienced pelvic disease and was referred to defendant Yonkosky, who is a board-certified general surgeon. Thereafter Clarke received considerable treatment, including surgery, and ultimately the IUD was located in her pelvic region. Clarke filed the instant action alleging violation of the applicable standard of care by the defendant physicians.

Following the taking of depositions of Clarke, Prenger, and Yonkosky, the defendants moved for summary judgment. In response thereto plaintiff filed affidavits of a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist from the state of Washington. Among other matters contained in the affidavits, Dr. Rattray stated:

I am familiar with the professional standard of care applicable to the physicians Prenger and Yonkosky engaged in the treatment of Vickie Clarke in Shoshone County, Idaho. I have reviewed the medical records and treatment of Mrs. Clarke by doctors Prenger and Yonkosky and am of the opinion that both doctors Prenger and Yonkosky have breached the standard of care applicable to the physicians engaged in the treatment of cases such as Vickie Clarke's in Shoshone County, Idaho.

That affidavit was supplemented by a letter attached thereto which set forth in detail the reasons for Rattray's opinion that Prenger and Yonkosky had breached the applicable standard of care.

As aforesaid, the district judge granted the motion for summary judgment on the basis that Dr. Rattray had not demonstrated familiarity with the standard of care applicable in the circumstances, and that Rattray was not shown to be "in the same specialty of medical practice as either of the two defendant doctors."

We take this occasion to express our disapproval of what appears to be a growing practice among the trial courts of this state dismissing medical malpractice cases at the summary judgment point on the basis that plaintiffs' expert witnesses are not sufficiently familiar with the standard of care to be expected from defendant-physicians. Our rules and our decisional law, Worthen v. State, 96 Idaho 175, 525 P.2d 957 (1974); Tri-State Nat. Bank v. Western Gateway Storage Co., 92 Idaho 543, 447 P.2d 409 (1968); I.R.C.P. 56(e), demonstrate that when faced with a motion for summary judgment the party against whom it is sought may not merely rest on allegations contained in his pleadings. Rather, he must come forward and produce evidence by way of deposition or affidavit to contradict the assertions of the moving party and establish a genuine issue of material fact. We do not view such burden as being onerous on plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases since ordinarily it only requires a positive indication that plaintiffs' expert witnesses possess the requisite knowledge of the local standard of care which has been allegedly violated. Unfortunately, plaintiffs' counsel too often are either unaware of the requirements of the summary judgment process, or fail to take their responsibilities seriously. On the other hand, it appears that some of our trial judges fail to recognize their obligation to construe not only the evidence before the court, but all reasonable inferences that flow therefrom, most favorably to the non-moving party. In our view the instant case provides an example of the lack of specific detail by plaintiff's counsel, and the error of the trial court in failing to view the evidence and the inferences flowing therefrom, most favorably toward the non-moving party.

It would serve no purpose to set forth the affidavits of Dr. Rattray and the correspondence attached thereto at length. It is sufficient to say they may be viewed as deficient in that they fail to delineate the process by which the witness obtained his alleged knowledge of the local standard of care then prevailing in Shoshone County. However, if such were a material deficiency, and if indeed no process had been engaged in to determine such standard, the deficiencies could have been established by taking the deposition of the witness. Nevertheless, the affidavits establish by conclusory statements that the witness possessed knowledge of the applicable local standard of care, and the standard of care incumbent upon each defendant in their board-certified specialties. Hence, we hold that the statements contained in the affidavits, together with all the legitimate inferences flowing therefrom, were sufficient to establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact which precluded the issuance of summary judgment, i.e., did Rattray possess the requisite knowledge of the required standard of care.

We next address what might be considered the alternative holding of the district judge in the instant case, that the witness Rattray was not in the same specialty of medical practice as the defendants, and hence was not competent to testify as to their alleged breach of the requisite standard of care. That question was not specifically addressed in our recent cases of Buck v. St. Clair, 108 Idaho 743, 702 P.2d 781 (1985) or Grimes v. Green, 113 Idaho 519, 746 P.2d 978 (1987). The question was, however, addressed in our recent case of Pearson v. Parsons, 114 Idaho 334, 757 P.2d 197 (1988). We take the present occasion to additionally address the question.

A similar question was presented in Fitzmaurice v. Flynn, 167 Conn. 609, 356 A.2d 887 (1975). There it was alleged that medical malpractice of an obstetrician-gynecologist had caused damage to the plaintiff. At trial objection was made and sustained to the testimony of an expert witness for the plaintiff on the basis that the witness was not a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist, although he had testified in detail as to his knowledge of the standards for obstetricians-gynecologists, and was familiar with their procedures. The witness was a surgeon specializing in breast cancer surgery, and had close ties and knowledge of the specialty practice of obstetrician-gynecologists. Nevertheless, the objections to his competence were sustained. On appeal the court noted:

The remaining basis for the court's ruling sustaining the defendant's objections was that Goldenberg was not of the same medical specialty as the defendant. ...

Recognizing the complexity of knowledge required in the various medical specialties, more than a casual familiarity with the specialty of the defendant's physician is required. The witness must demonstrate a knowledge acquired from experience or study of the standards of the specialty of the defendant physician sufficient to enable him to give an expert opinion as to the conformity of the defendant's conduct to those particular standards, and not to the standards of the witness's particular specialty if it differs from that of the defendant. It is the scope of the witness's knowledge and not the artificial classification by title that should govern the threshold question of...

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14 cases
  • Olsen v. J.A. Freeman Co.
    • United States
    • Idaho Supreme Court
    • May 7, 1990
    ...or affidavit to contradict the assertions of the moving party and establish a genuine issue of material fact. Clarke v. Prenger, 114 Idaho 766, 760 P.2d 1182 (1988); Worthen v. State, 96 Idaho 175, 525 P.2d 957 (1974); Tri-State Nat'l Bank v. Western Gateway Storage Co., 92 Idaho 543, 447 P......
  • Dulaney v. St. Alphonsus
    • United States
    • Idaho Supreme Court
    • March 21, 2002
    ...local standard of care would have complied with the relevant time requirement of Idaho Code § 6-1012. Relying upon Clarke v. Prenger, 114 Idaho 766, 760 P.2d 1182 (1988), Dulaney argues, "The Idaho courts do not require that expert witness doctors be of the same medical specialty as the Def......
  • Sammis v. Magnetek, Inc.
    • United States
    • Idaho Supreme Court
    • June 5, 1997
    ...on the ground that they are inadmissible hearsay and thus violate Rule 56(e). This case is thus distinguishable from Clarke v. Prenger, 114 Idaho 766, 760 P.2d 1182 (1988), discussed in Rhodehouse v. Stutts, 125 Idaho 208, 868 P.2d 1224 (1994), where neither the attorneys nor the district j......
  • Aragon v. State
    • United States
    • Idaho Supreme Court
    • August 25, 1988
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