• CMottHesse

Court grants defense summary judgment, finding plaintiffs' experts lacked knowledge of community SOC

Recently, upon Motion for Summary judgment by a defendant Hospital, the court entered summary judgment in favor of the defense, on the grounds that one of plaintiffs' expert witnesses lacked actual knowledge of the applicable community standard of care, which equates to a failure by the plaintiffs to prove an essential element of their negligence case.

It is well-settled in Idaho that, to avoid summary judgment in favor of the defense, a plaintiff must offer expert testimony to support allegations that the defendant negligently failed to meet the applicable standard of care. See Dulaney v. St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, 137 Idaho 160, 164, 45 P.3d 816, 820 (2002). It is also well-established that Idaho utilizes a community standard of care rather than a broader, national standard of care, and Idaho Code §§ 6-1012 and 6-1013 govern the admissibility of medical expert witness testimony. A plaintiff is required to establish, among other things, that his or her experts have “actual knowledge of the applicable community standard of care” to which the expert’s testimony is addressed. See I.C. § 6-1013; Dulaney, 137 Idaho at 164, 45 P.3d at 820. While § 6-1013 does not preclude an out-of-area expert who is otherwise qualified from giving expert testimony, such experts are required to become familiar “with the standards and practices” of the applicable community. I.C. § 6-1 01 3.

“An expert testifying as to the standard of care in medical malpractice actions must show that he or she is familiar with the standard of care for the particular health care professional for the relevant community and time.” Dulaney, 137 Idaho at 164, 45 P.3d at 820 (citations omitted). “The expert must also state how he or she became familiar with that standard of care.” Id. An out-of-area expert may obtain knowledge of the local standard of care by various methods, including consultation with a local specialist or a review of deposition testimony in which a local specialist testified to the local standard of care. See Rhodehouse v. Stutts, 125 Idaho 208, 868 P.2d 1224 (1994).

Defendants argued that Plaintiffs’ medical experts’ testimony was inadmissible because Plaintiffs’ out-of-area experts did not show actual knowledge of the local community standard of care as required under Idaho Code §§ 6-1012 and 6-1013. As a result, Defendants argued that summary judgment in their favor was appropriate because Plaintiffs’ could not establish a prima facie claim for medical malpractice under Idaho Code § 6-1012.

Plaintiffs conversely argued that their experts did not need to be familiar with the local standard of care because board-certified physicians and physician's assistants are held to a national standard of care, and the "local community standard of care" for a board-certified physician is, in fact, a national standard. Plaintiffs further alleged that their expert had actual knowledge of the local standard of care based on his review of the depositions, medical records, and the defendant Hospital's health policies and procedures. Notably, during this expert's deposition, however, he stated that he had never been licensed to practice medicine in Idaho, had never practiced medicine in Idaho, and had never spoken to anyone who had practiced medicine in Idaho or the county in which the events-in-question occurred.

The Court rejected Plaintiffs' reliance on Samples v. Hanson, 161 Idaho 179, 185, 384 P.3d 943, 949 (2016), because the challenged medical expert in that case--unlike Plaintiff's expert here--did have actual knowledge of the local standard of care. Further, this Court reaffirmed the disavowal of Buck v. St. Claire, to the extent it held that a national standard of care replaces the local, community standard for board-certified physicians, because such a holding contradicts the "clear mandate of I.C. § 6-1012." See Grimes v. Green, 113 Idaho 519, 521, 746 P.2d 978, 980-81. Ultimately, the Court re-affirmed the applicability of the Grimes holding that medical experts are still required to show actual knowledge of the local standard of care. Id. at 521 (“an out-of-the-area doctor must inquire of the local standard in order to insure there are no local deviations from the national standard under which the defendant-physician and witness-physician were trained.”).

Further, the Court rejected Plaintiffs' assertions that the local standard of care has been supplanted by Joint Commission standards, federal regulations, or the Defendant Hospital's own policies and procedures. The Court explained that, in order to supplant the local standard of care for the purposes of §§ 6-1012 and 6-1013, a statute must be more than “some general regulatory scheme for a given area of medicine” and must “govern the physical administration of health care,” as opposed to “organizational, personnel, and utilization requirements,” which was not the case here. Navo v. Bingham Memorial Hospital, 160 Idaho 363, 372-73, P.3d 681, 689-90 (2016) (quoting McDaniel v. Inland Northwest Renal Care Group—Idaho, LLC, 144 Idaho 219, 223, 159 P.3d 856, 860 (2007)).

Finally, the Court advised that while reviewing a defendant doctor's deposition testimony may, in some cases, enable an expert to become familiar with the local standard of care, the depositions that Plaintiffs' expert reviewed did not suffice because nowhere in any of the depositions he reviewed was the local standard of care (1) applicable to the specific medical specialties, (2) during the pertinent time frame, (3) in the county where the alleged negligence occurred, stated. Additionally, none of the reviewed depositions established a national standard of care would supplant the local standard of care.

While this is an encouraging 'win' by the defense, it does represent the ongoing attempts by plaintiffs to supplant Idaho's community standard of care with a national one. Defense counsel will need to remain vigilant on this issue.

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