Letch v. Daniels

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Citation514 N.E.2d 675,401 Mass. 65
PartiesJohanna L. LETCH v. Arthur A. DANIELS, Jr.
Decision Date04 November 1987

Page 675

514 N.E.2d 675
401 Mass. 65
Johanna L. LETCH
Arthur A. DANIELS, Jr.
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts,
Argued Sept. 11, 1987.
Decided Nov. 4, 1987.

Michael E. Festa, Melrose, for plaintiff.

John F. Finnerty, Jr., Boston, for defendant.


LIACOS, Justice.

The plaintiff, an unemancipated minor, brought this action by her mother and next friend, Donna Letch, alleging dental malpractice by the defendant, a pedodontist. The defendant is a dentist specializing in the treatment of children's teeth. The defendant's treatment of the plaintiff, a child then about eight years old, involved orthodontia, the specialty of correcting the alignment and positioning of teeth. The plaintiff claims that, as a result of the defendant's negligent treatment, she [401 Mass. 66] developed root resorption in several of her teeth, necessitating years of expensive corrective procedures and the likely loss of the affected teeth.

During the course of the trial, the plaintiff called Dr. Karel Malovany to testify as an expert in orthodontia. Malovany's education, training, and practice qualified him as an orthodontist. The trial judge accepted him as such. Malovany testified about his dental examinations of the plaintiff, about the plaintiff's root resorption problem, and about the apparent causes of her condition. However, the judge precluded the witness from testifying to the appropriate standard of care for the plaintiff's course of treatment, since Malovany was not a pedodontist. Without expert testimony on this issue in evidence, the judge felt

Page 676

compelled to order a directed verdict for the defendant. The Appeals Court, in an unpublished memorandum and order, reversed and ordered a new trial. 23 Mass.App.Ct. 1107, 503 N.E.2d 479 (1987). We granted the defendant's application for further appellate review. We reverse the judgment and remand for a new trial.

Expert testimony. The plaintiff argues that it was error for the trial judge to exclude Malovany's testimony regarding the appropriate standard of care solely on the ground that he was not a pedodontist. We agree. Although a trial judge has broad discretion in determining the qualifications of a witness to testify as an expert, his decision will not be upheld if it is erroneous as matter of law. Louise Caroline Nursing Home, Inc. v. Dix Constr. Corp., 362 Mass. 306, 309, 285 N.E.2d 904 (1972). Accord Dorsyl Realty, Inc. v. Worcester Redevelopment Auth., 357 Mass. 777, 778, 258 N.E.2d 926 (1970).

The issue in this case is not the competence of Malovany as an expert witness. After hearing the witness's credentials as an orthodontist, the judge allowed detailed testimony concerning Malovany's examination of the plaintiff and his expert opinion on the causes of her condition, including opinions based on hypothetical questions. 1 Toward the end of this witness's[401 Mass. 67] testimony, the plaintiff attempted to elicit an opinion about the requisite standard of care of a pedodontist engaging in specified interceptive orthodontic treatments. 2 The judge sustained the defendant's objection to such testimony. Of his own accord, the judge raised the rationale that the witness could not so testify because he was not a pedodontist. 3 The [401 Mass. 68] judge sustained objections to additional questions addressing the standard of care to be employed by a dentist involved in orthodontia and of a pedodontist undertaking

Page 677

certain enumerated orthodontic processes.

A medical expert need not be a specialist in the area concerned nor be practicing in the same field as the defendant. "It is well established that the professional specialty of a medical practitioner offered as a witness need not be precisely and narrowly related to the medical issues of the case. Thus, it has been held that a judge, in his discretion, properly admitted the opinions of a general practitioner in a case which related to specialized medical issues." Kapp v. Ballantine, 380 Mass. 186, 192-193 n. 7, 402 N.E.2d 463 (1980). Accord Commonwealth v. Boyd, 367 Mass. 169, 182-183, 326 N.E.2d 320 (1975) (expert need not be a specialist in the field); Gill v. North Shore Radiological Assocs., 10 Mass.App.Ct. 885, 886, 409 N.E.2d 248 (1980) (deeming it unnecessary "for the plaintiff's medical expert to be a specialist in the area concerned"); Samii v. Baystate Medical Center, Inc., 8 Mass.App.Ct. 911, 911-912, 395 N.E.2d 455 (1979) (approving expert testimony on standard of care in obstetrics from a specialist in internal medicine familiar with subject matter). The crucial issue is whether the witness has sufficient "education, training, experience and familiarity" with the subject matter of the testimony. Gill, supra. Samii, supra. See also Commonwealth v. Monico, 396 Mass. 793, 803-805, 488 N.E.2d 1168 (1986) (error to exclude opinion of psychologist on criminal responsibility of a criminal defendant); Andrade v. Correia, 358 Mass. 786, 788, 267 N.E.2d 503 (1971) (allowing chiropractor to give expert testimony "within the scope of his experience and the limited scope of the permissible practice of a chiropractor").

[401 Mass. 69] Malovany's...

To continue reading

Request your trial
49 cases
  • Rosario v. US, Civ. A. No. 86-2017-N.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • 10 Mayo 1993
    ...of that opinion and the weight it will be given." Rogers, 478 F.Supp. at 1385; see also Walton, 770 F.Supp. at 739; Letch v. Daniels, 401 Mass. 65, 69, 514 N.E.2d 675 With this rule in mind and after assessing the credibility of each of the medical experts who testified at trial, this Court......
  • Com. v. Azar, 90-P-958
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • 27 Mayo 1992
    ...specialty of a medical witness "need not be precisely and narrowly related to the medical issues of the case." Letch v. Daniels, 401 Mass. 65, 68, 514 N.E.2d 675 (1987), quoting from Kapp v. Ballantine, 380 Mass. 186, 192-193 n. 7, 402 N.E.2d 463 (1980). There was sufficient foundation to s......
  • Zabin v. Picciotto, 06-P-1419.
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • 18 Noviembre 2008
    ...intentionally falsified the record." Burda v. Spencer, 28 Mass.App.Ct. 685, 689, 554 N.E.2d 1227 (1990), quoting from Letch v. Daniels, 401 Mass. 65, 67-69 & n. 3, 514 N.E.2d 675 b. Modification of the record. Following assembly of the record and entry of the appeal on the docket of this co......
  • Commonwealth v. Morris, 10–P–2175.
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • 14 Septiembre 2012
    ...training, experience, and familiarity with the subject matter of [his] testimony.” Goetzendanner, supra, quoting from Letch v. Daniels, 401 Mass. 65, 68, 514 N.E.2d 675 (1987). The judge reviewed Detective Wile's qualifications [974 N.E.2d 1158]during a voir dire examination. Wile was exper......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT