Dulaney v. St. Alphonsus

Decision Date21 March 2002
Docket NumberNo. 26028.,26028.
Citation45 P.3d 816,137 Idaho 160
PartiesAnna L. DULANEY, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ST. ALPHONSUS REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, Gary F. Holland, M.D., Stanley J. Waters, M.D., Defendants-Respondents, and Does I Through X, Defendants.
CourtIdaho Supreme Court

Ringert Clark, Chtd., Boise, and Magnuson Lowell, Richmond, Washington, for appellant. James G. Reid and Richard Lowell argued.

Cantrill, Skinner, Sullivan & King, Boise, for respondent St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center. John L. King argued.

Hall, Farley, Oberrecht & Blanton, Boise, for respondent Stanley J. Waters. Richard E. Hall argued.

Moffatt, Thomas, Barrett, Rock & Fields, Boise, for respondent Gary F. Holland. Patricia M. Olsson argued.

SUBSTITUTE OPINION

THE COURT'S PRIOR OPINION DATED AUGUST 7, 2001, IS HEREBY WITHDRAWN.

EISMANN, Justice.

Plaintiff Anna Dulaney appeals from the district court's grant of summary judgment dismissing her claims for medical malpractice against the defendants. Because she did not lay an adequate foundation for admitting into evidence the testimony of her two expert witnesses, we affirm the order of the district court.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On August 17, 1994, Anna Dulaney, a resident of Washington state, was injured in a fall at her cousin's home in Boise, Idaho. The chair on which Delaney was seated rolled off a pool deck, causing her to fall approximately four feet to the ground. An ambulance transported her to the emergency room of the St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center (St.Alphonsus), where she was treated and released to return to her cousin's home.

Two days later, while walking from her bed to the bathroom in her cousin's home, Dulaney's legs "gave out" and she fell again. Now in excruciating pain, Dulaney was transported by ambulance back to the St. Alphonsus emergency room where Dr. Holland, the emergency room physician, examined her and then asked Dr. Waters, an orthopedic surgeon, to consult on Dulaney's case. After both physicians had examined her and had reviewed the x-rays taken two days earlier, Dulaney was released from the emergency room. Her pain had not subsided and she was unable to walk. She was transported by ambulance back to her cousin's home.

On August 21, 1994, Dulaney was driven by automobile back to Washington and taken immediately to the emergency room at Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue, Washington. She was examined and admitted into the hospital. An MRI scan taken the next day revealed a block in her spine at T7. She was immediately taken to the operating room, but the surgery did not restore function in her lower extremities. She is now a paraplegic.

On February 7, 1997, Dulaney filed this action against St. Alphonsus and against doctors Gary Holland and Stanley Waters. On January 5, 1998, St. Alphonsus moved for summary judgment contending that its emergency room employees were not negligent and that St. Alphonsus was not liable for the alleged negligence of Drs. Holland and Waters, who were independent contractors. The district court granted summary judgment to St. Alphonsus on the issue of the negligence of its employees. Dulaney has not appealed that grant of summary judgment. The district court denied St. Alphonsus' motion for summary judgment regarding the negligence of the physicians on the ground that St. Alphonsus could not contract away liability for actions taken by physicians practicing in its emergency room.

On June 2, 1999, St. Alphonsus again moved for summary judgment, and on the following day Drs. Holland and Waters each moved for summary judgment. In its motion for summary judgment, St. Alphonsus asked the district court to reconsider its prior ruling that the hospital could be liable for the actions of physicians who were independent contractors. In their motions for summary judgment, Drs. Holland and Waters argued that Dulaney had failed to lay an adequate foundation for the admissibility of the testimony of her two medical experts. They specifically argued that Dulaney had failed to show that her experts were familiar with the local standard of care. Dr. Waters also argued that there was no evidence that his alleged negligence proximately caused or contributed to Dulaney's injuries. Dr. Holland supported his motion with an affidavit of his medical expert who stated that Holland's treatment of Dulaney had met the applicable standard of care, and Dr. Waters supported his motion with his affidavit in which he stated that his treatment of Dulaney complied with the applicable standard of care. Dulaney relied upon affidavits and deposition testimony from two physicians who practiced in the state of Washington.

The district court heard the motions on July 19, 1999. It granted Dr. Holland's motion to strike portions of the affidavit of one of Dulaney's medical experts, and it ruled that the testimony of Dulaney's medical experts was not admissible. It therefore granted the defendants' motions for summary judgment.

On August 6, 1999, Dulaney filed a motion for reconsideration based upon additional deposition excerpts and a supplemental affidavit filed by one of her medical experts. In the supplemental affidavit, the medical expert stated that he had consulted with an unnamed professor of orthopedic medicine at a major university regarding the standard of care, that the professor told him that the standard of care in Boise for orthopedic surgeons was the same as in all major metropolitan areas in the United States, and that the professor had authorized the medical expert to reveal the professor's name to the judge presiding over the case as long as it was not revealed to anyone else. The district court denied the motion for reconsideration, and Dulaney filed this appeal.

II. ISSUES ON APPEAL
A. Did the trial court err in striking a portion of the affidavit of Dr. Terry Mengert, one of Dulaney's medical experts, and in ruling that Dulaney had failed to lay an adequate foundation for the admission of Dr. Mengert's testimony?
B. Did the trial court err in ruling that Dulaney had failed to lay an adequate foundation for the admission of the testimony of her medical expert, Dr. William Stump?
C. Did the trial court err in denying the motion for reconsideration on the basis that Dr. Stump's conversation with an anonymous professor of orthopedics was not an acceptable means for laying the foundation that Dr. Stump had knowledge of the applicable standard of care?
III. ANALYSIS

The admissibility of the expert testimony is an issue that is separate and distinct from whether that testimony is sufficient to raise genuine issues of material fact sufficient to preclude summary judgment. Kolln v. Saint Luke's Reg'l Med. Ctr., 130 Idaho 323, 940 P.2d 1142 (1997); Rhodehouse v. Stutts, 125 Idaho 208, 868 P.2d 1224 (1994). When considering whether the evidence in the record shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact, the trial court must liberally construe the facts, and draw all reasonable inferences, in favor of the nonmoving party. Mitchell v. Bingham Mem'l Hosp., 130 Idaho 420, 942 P.2d 544 (1997). The liberal construction and reasonable inferences standard does not apply, however, when deciding whether or not testimony offered in connection with a motion for summary judgment is admissible. Kolln v. Saint Luke's Reg'l Med. Ctr., 130 Idaho 323, 940 P.2d 1142 (1997); Rhodehouse v. Stutts, 125 Idaho 208, 868 P.2d 1224 (1994). The trial court must look at the witness' affidavit or deposition testimony and determine whether it alleges facts which, if taken as true, would render the testimony of that witness admissible. Rhodehouse v. Stutts, 125 Idaho 208, 868 P.2d 1224 (1994). This Court reviews challenges to the trial court's evidentiary rulings under the abuse of discretion standard. Perry v. Magic Valley Reg'l Med. Ctr., 134 Idaho 46, 995 P.2d 816 (2000).

To avoid summary judgment for the defense in a medical malpractice case, the plaintiff must offer expert testimony indicating that the defendant health care provider negligently failed to meet the applicable standard of health care practice. In order for such expert testimony to be admissible, the plaintiff must lay the foundation required by Idaho Code § 6-1013. To do so, the plaintiff must offer evidence showing: (a) that such opinion is actually held by the expert witness; (b) that the expert witness can testify to the opinion with a reasonable degree of medical certainty; (c) that the expert witness possesses professional knowledge and expertise; and (d) that the expert witness has actual knowledge of the applicable community standard of care to which his expert opinion testimony is addressed. Morris ex rel. Morris v. Thomson, 130 Idaho 138, 937 P.2d 1212 (1997); Rhodehouse v. Stutts, 125 Idaho 208, 868 P.2d 1224 (1994); Dunlap ex rel. Dunlap v. Garner, 127 Idaho 599, 903 P.2d 1296 (1994).

The applicable community standard of care is defined in Idaho Code § 6-1012. It is: (a) the standard of care for the class of health care provider to which the defendant belonged and was functioning, taking into account the defendant's training, experience, and fields of medical specialization, if any; Kolln v. Saint Luke's Reg'l Med. Ctr., 130 Idaho 323, 940 P.2d 1142 (1997); Evans v. Griswold, 129 Idaho 902, 935 P.2d 165 (1997); (b) as such standard existed at the time of the defendant's alleged negligence; Perry v. Magic Valley Reg'l Med. Ctr., 134 Idaho 46, 995 P.2d 816 (2000); Watts v. Lynn, 125 Idaho 341, 870 P.2d 1300 (1994); Gubler v. Boe, 120 Idaho 294, 815 P.2d 1034 (1991); and (c) as such standard existed at the place of the defendant's alleged negligence. Perry v. Magic Valley Reg'l Med. Ctr., 134 Idaho 46, 995 P.2d 816 (2000); Watts v. Lynn, 125 Idaho 341, 870 P.2d 1300 (1994); Gubler v. Boe, 120 Idaho 294, 815 P.2d 1034 (1991).

Rule 56(e) of the Idaho Rules of Civil Procedure imposes additional requirements upon the...

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