Honea v. Prior, No. 1157

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtGOOLSBY; CURETON; SHAW; SHAW; GOOLSBY
Citation369 S.E.2d 846,295 S.C. 526
PartiesPatti HONEA, Respondent, v. William Franklin PRIOR, M.D., Appellant. . Heard
Decision Date22 March 1988
Docket NumberNo. 1157

Page 846

369 S.E.2d 846
295 S.C. 526
Patti HONEA, Respondent,
v.
William Franklin PRIOR, M.D., Appellant.
No. 1157.
Court of Appeals of South Carolina.
Heard March 22, 1988.
Decided May 9, 1988.

Page 847

[295 S.C. 527] Stephen K. Surasky of Bell & Surasky, Langley, James B. Richardson, Jr. of Richardson & Smith, Columbia, for appellant.

Kenneth M. Suggs and John Boswell of Suggs & Kelly, and James Edward Holler, Columbia, for respondent.

[295 S.C. 528] GOOLSBY, Judge:

This case involves allegations of a sexual assault committed by a physician on a female patient. The jury awarded the patient, Patti Honea, $15,000 in actual damages and $80,000 in punitive damages. The physician, William Franklin Prior, M.D., appeals. The questions on appeal concern expert witnesses and the exclusion of certain testimony.

Honea's complaint alleges that on November 11, 1984, she went to Prior's office in Aiken County to obtain a prescription for birth control pills, that Prior required her to disrobe, that after she removed her clothing and lay down on the examining table Prior began caressing her breast, stomach, and vagina, that Prior then inserted his hand into her vagina, rubbed her very hard, and asked her if she enjoyed his actions, that she several times requested him to stop, that he unzipped his pants, that she began crying and demanded she be allowed to dress and leave the examining room, that Prior told her to follow him to his office to receive the birth control pills, that when he handed her the pills he pulled her onto his lap, and that she broke free and fled. Honea's complaint further alleges that Prior's actions caused her, among other things, to suffer emotional and psychological pain and trauma, to be

Page 848

hospitalized, to suffer physical pain and suffering, to lose wages, and to pay medical expenses. She sets forth causes of action for assault and battery, negligence, and outrage.

Prior's answer denies Honea's allegations.

An Aiken County jury, however, found Honea's allegations to be true.

I.

Prior contends the trial court erred in qualifying two social workers as expert witnesses to give opinion testimony concerning their diagnoses of Honea's psychiatric disorder.

On November 27, 1984, Honea's family doctor, Charles Hewitt, Jr., M.D., referred her to Deb Bennett for counseling in connection with an alleged sexual assault that Honea told him occurred some 16 days earlier when she went to see [295 S.C. 529] Prior to get a prescription for birth control pills. Hewitt, who had wide experience in treating sexually-abused adults, worked with Bennett "for years," considered her "superbly trained and ... the person at the [Aiken-Barnwell] Mental Health Center who could most adequately handle a complicated situation ... in a therapeutic fashion."

Bennett received a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's degree in clinical social work. Before coming to Aiken, Bennett underwent training in a sexuality program in Minneapolis and was responsible for supervising the rape crisis centers in that city.

Shortly after she arrived in Aiken, she participated in a three-day program for professionals concerned with victims of sexual assault.

At the time of trial, she had been employed by the Mental Health Center for four years and held the position of Adult Family Out-Patient Program Coordinator. She once served as coordinator of the family violence program at the Mental Health Center and trained therapists on its staff. She carried her own clinical load and supervised 60 other therapists.

Bennett had served as a consultant to the Department of Social Services and to a coalition that assists abused persons. She had "treated" over 100 victims of sexual assault and had testified in 30 or 40 cases involving sexual assault and family violence.

She testified that clinical social workers provide psychiatric diagnoses and that her bachelor's degree and her master's degree in social work "enables [her] to make psychiatric diagnoses." Bennett also testified that her psychiatric diagnoses are reviewed by a psychiatrist.

Bennett saw Honea four times between December 6, 1984, and February 12, 1985. She referred Honea to Patricia Feigley after Honea moved to Columbia.

Feigley received her undergraduate degree in sociology and her master's degree in social work with a mental health specialization.

Feigley worked at the Family Service Center in Columbia as a clinical social worker for approximately five years. At the time of trial, she engaged in private practice, did consulting work, and worked part-time at the Columbia Mental Health Center.

[295 S.C. 530] All total, Feigley had 11 years experience in treating and counseling patients, including sexual assault victims. She received training in and did staff development presentations on the subject of sexual assault.

Feigley considered herself "qualified and competent to make psychiatric diagnoses" because of her clinical training in a "psychiatric setting." Further, she had read widely regarding post-traumatic stress syndrome and had been involved in clinical environments where this diagnosis was commonly made.

Beginning on July 20, 1986, Feigley held ten sessions with Honea.

Prior objected to Bennett being qualified as an expert witness to offer a psychiatric diagnosis of Honea. He also objected, in a general way, to Feigley being "qualified as an expert." After cross-examining Feigley regarding her qualifications, Prior moved, again in a general way, "to exclude her

Page 849

testimony as an expert." The trial judge qualified both social workers as expert witnesses.

The qualification of a witness as an expert is, as a general rule, a matter committed to the sound discretion of the trial judge. Campbell v. Paschal, 290 S.C. 1, 347 S.E.2d 892 (Ct.App.1986). The trial judge's determination regarding a witness' qualifications to testify as an expert will not be disturbed on appeal, absent a showing of an abuse of discretion. McCown v. Muldrow, 91 S.C. 523, 74 S.E. 386 (1912).

To qualify as an expert, a person must have acquired by study or practical experience such special knowledge of the subject matter of his or her testimony as would enable the person to give guidance and assistance to the jury in solving a problem about which the jury's good judgment and average knowledge is inadequate. Botehlo v. Bycura, 282 S.C. 578, 320 S.E.2d 59 (Ct.App.1984); Allen v. State, 365 So.2d 456 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App.1978), dismissed 368 So.2d 1373 (1979). There is no exact requirement concerning how knowledge or skill must be acquired. Hopkins v. Comer, 240 N.C. 143, 81 S.E.2d 368 (1954). A witness may be competent to testify as an expert although the witness acquired his or her knowledge through practical experience and not by scientific study, training, or research. 31 Am.Jur.2d Expert and Opinion Evidence § 27 at 526 (1967). Even where the problem[295 S.C. 531] presented may be one that usually requires some scientific knowledge or training, a person with long experience may testify as an expert although he or she did not pursue a special study of the matter. Id. at 526-27.

With respect to the qualifications of an observing witness to give an expert opinion concerning a person's mental condition, it is not necessary that the witness be specially skilled in the subject of mental disorders or that the witness be a psychiatrist. 32 C.J.S. Evidence § 546(101) at 391-92 (1964); cf. Botehlo v. Bycura, 282 S.C. at 586, 320 S.E.2d at 64 ("[A]n expert is not limited to any class of persons acting professionally."). An observing witness as to mental condition, however, must have had "adequate opportunities for observation." 32 C.J.S., supra at 391.

Considering each social worker's education,...

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26 practice notes
  • State v. Douglas, No. 4075.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • January 23, 2006
    ...S.C. 402, 563 S.E.2d 109 (Ct.App.2002). There is no exact requirement concerning how knowledge or skill must be acquired. Honea v. Prior, 295 S.C. 526, 369 S.E.2d 846 The party offering the expert has the burden of showing the witness possesses the necessary learning, skill, or practical ex......
  • State v. White, No. 4196.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • January 16, 2007
    ...S.C. 402, 563 S.E.2d 109 (Ct.App.2002). There is no exact requirement concerning how knowledge or skill must be acquired. Honea v. Prior, 295 S.C. 526, 369 S.E.2d 846 (Ct.App. The party offering the expert testimony has the burden of showing the witness possesses the necessary learning, ski......
  • State v. Morgan, No. 2653
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • November 7, 1996
    ...related full history as given by the Page 119 child, error was harmless in light of other testimony presented at trial); Honea v. Prior, 295 S.C. 526, 369 S.E.2d 846 (Ct.App.1988) (any error caused by the court's admission of one expert's opinion on PTSD was harmless in light of a second ex......
  • Fields v. REGIONAL MED. CENTER ORANGEBURG, No. 3623.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • April 14, 2003
    ...S.C. 578, 320 S.E.2d 59 (Ct.App. 1984). There is no exact requirement concerning how knowledge or skill must be acquired. Honea v. Prior, 295 S.C. 526, 369 S.E.2d 846 Usually, if opinion testimony is offered by a physician or surgeon, his competency to testify as an expert is sufficiently e......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
26 cases
  • State v. Douglas, No. 4075.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • January 23, 2006
    ...S.C. 402, 563 S.E.2d 109 (Ct.App.2002). There is no exact requirement concerning how knowledge or skill must be acquired. Honea v. Prior, 295 S.C. 526, 369 S.E.2d 846 The party offering the expert has the burden of showing the witness possesses the necessary learning, skill, or practical ex......
  • State v. White, No. 4196.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • January 16, 2007
    ...S.C. 402, 563 S.E.2d 109 (Ct.App.2002). There is no exact requirement concerning how knowledge or skill must be acquired. Honea v. Prior, 295 S.C. 526, 369 S.E.2d 846 (Ct.App. The party offering the expert testimony has the burden of showing the witness possesses the necessary learning, ski......
  • State v. Morgan, No. 2653
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • November 7, 1996
    ...related full history as given by the Page 119 child, error was harmless in light of other testimony presented at trial); Honea v. Prior, 295 S.C. 526, 369 S.E.2d 846 (Ct.App.1988) (any error caused by the court's admission of one expert's opinion on PTSD was harmless in light of a second ex......
  • Fields v. REGIONAL MED. CENTER ORANGEBURG, No. 3623.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • April 14, 2003
    ...S.C. 578, 320 S.E.2d 59 (Ct.App. 1984). There is no exact requirement concerning how knowledge or skill must be acquired. Honea v. Prior, 295 S.C. 526, 369 S.E.2d 846 Usually, if opinion testimony is offered by a physician or surgeon, his competency to testify as an expert is sufficiently e......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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