3rd District Court of Appeal upholds ruling dismissing doctor's testimony

By Carrie Salls | Jan 23, 2018

The 3rd District Court of Appeal has affirmed a lower court ruling that the opinions of a doctor who testified in a case related to the death of the plaintiff’s mother did not have “sufficient evidentiary weight to be submitted to the jury,” according to the Jan. 17 opinion.

MIAMI – The 3rd District Court of Appeal has affirmed a lower court ruling that the opinions of a doctor who testified in a case related to the death of the plaintiff’s mother did not have “sufficient evidentiary weight to be submitted to the jury,” according to the Jan. 17 opinion.

Robert Siegel sued Cross Senior Care Inc.’s Cross Gardens Care Center LLC after his 88-year-old mother, Sybil Siegel, died in a hospital “of end stage dementia and end stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” according to the opinion. Sybil Siegel was a resident of Cross Gardens before she was admitted to Mount Sinai Medical Center.

Although a jury initially awarded Siegel $5,000 for medical expenses and $1,133 to cover funeral costs, much less than the $400,000 for pain and suffering and $90,161.86 in medical and funeral expenses he sought, the appeals court said the Miami-Dade County Circuit Court later set aside the jury verdict. Siegel appealed.

“At trial, Siegel’s theory rested almost entirely on the testimony of Dr. Lee Fisher, an expert in family medicine,” the opinion said. However, “Dr. Fisher never treated or examined Ms. Siegel. His opinions were based exclusively on his review of Ms. Siegel’s medical records," the court said.

In addition, the appeals court said the opinions offered in Fisher’s testimony were questionable. Specifically, the court said, “Fisher’s major opinions were contradicted by the medical records upon which they were purportedly based.”

“The question presented on appeal is whether Dr. Fisher’s opinions had sufficient evidentiary weight to be submitted to the jury,” the appeals court said in its ruling. “The trial court found that they did not. We agree.”

The appeals court said Fisher’s testimony “focused on what he perceived as Ms. Siegel’s lack of care in the nursing home prior to her transfer to Mt. Sinai,” specifically citing a “gap” in Sybil Siegel’s nursing home records that indicated that in the two weeks before her transfer to the medical center with pneumonia her condition was simply listed as “stable.”

As a result of the sparse records relating to Sybil Siegel’s condition, the appeals court said Fisher thought she was “not being properly monitored at the nursing home,” causing her pneumonia to get worse. If proper care had been taken at the nursing home, Fisher said she may not have died at that time.

Although the nurse’s notes were not detailed during the 14-day period in question, the appeals court said other medical records showed that during the gap period, Sybil Siegel received regular pain screenings, underwent X-rays twice and had blood tests performed.

The blood test revealed elevated white blood cells, “indicating possible infection,” but “the x-ray showed no evidence of pneumonitis,” nor did it reveal “’consolidation’ which, as Dr. Fisher himself testified, is what the x-ray would have shown if Ms. Siegel had pneumonia," according to the opinion.

Four days after those x-rays were taken, which Fisher agreed “ruled out pneumonia,” the opinion said Sybil Siegel’s condition changed, and she was transferred to Mt. Sinai.

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