Plaintiff’s attempt to preclude testimony of expert witness in asbestos related products liability litigation meets impasse—court refuses to circumscribe competent experts to narrowly defined fields or specific licensure.

On Friday, June 9, 2017, Presiding Justice Alice Gibney of the Rhode Island Superior Court, Providence County, issued a decision denying a plaintiff’s motion to preclude the expert testimony of Dr. Michael Graham, proffered by the Defendant Crane Co., in an asbestos-related products liability action.

Plaintiff argued that Dr. Graham was not qualified to provide expert testimony regarding causation of asbestos-related diseases and sought to preclude his testimony, pursuant to Rhode Island Rule of Evidence 702, which provides that:

If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine ac fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of fact or opinion.

Defendant objected and maintained that the Court should allow Dr. Graham’s testimony as he was an experienced and qualified pathologist.  In the alternative, Defendant requested that any ruling on Plaintiff’s Motion be reserved until Dr. Graham had the opportunity to present his qualifications to the Court.

Plaintiff argued that Dr. Graham’s background as an expert pathologist, expert medical examiner, and expert at determining cause of death did not render him an expert in causation in connection with asbestos-related diseases.  Plaintiff noted that Dr. Graham’s professional publications were almost completely devoid of reference to asbestos and discussion of mesothelioma.  As a result of this alleged deficiency, Plaintiff contended that the testimony was not relevant and that it would be of no assistance to a jury.  Plaintiff urged the Court to circumscribe that limits of permissible expert testimony in a manner analogous to medical malpractice litigation—narrowing competent experts to those with specialized qualifications in narrowly defined fields.

Defendant countered by asserting that Dr. Graham was a board certified pathologist, had studied asbestos-related diseases for over thirty years and had the opportunity to review over 1000 case of asbestos-related diseases throughout his career.  Defendant also emphasized that Dr. Graham testified in more than 750 cases within the United States and specifically reviewed the Plaintiff’s pathology in forming his opinions in the case.

In reaching its decision, the Superior Court reaffirmed that “before admitting expert testimony, the trial justice must evaluate whether the testimony that a party seeks to present to the jury is relevant, within the witnesses’ expertise, and based on an adequate factual foundation.”  (Internal citation and quotation omitted).   The Court explained that it would evaluate the expert’s qualifications by reviewing his education, training, employment and experiences.  Thereafter, the Court would endeavor to determine whether the expert would present scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge that would assist the trier of fact.

Justice Gibney quoted to the Rhode Island Supreme Court’s Opinion in Raimbeault v. Takeuchi Mfg. U.S., Ltd., 772 A.2d 1056, 1061 (R.I. 2001) with approval for the proposition that an expert witness “need not
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Manion Gaynor & Manning LLP (“MG+M”) has obtained a summary judgment on behalf of client HealthPort Technologies (“HealthPort”) in Basil Crookshanks, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, v. HealthPort and Charlestown Area Medical Center (“CAMC”).  On Wednesday, May 25, 2017, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia issued a writ of prohibition ordering the trial court to dismiss a class action case against HealthPort and CAMC brought in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.  The Supreme Court held that the representative plaintiff, Basil Crookshanks, lacked Article 3 standing to assert a claim because his purported injury was contingent upon a future event.

Plaintiff’s complaint alleged that HealthPort and CAMC (collectively, “Defendants”) had violated W.Va. Code § 16-29-2(a) by overcharging for the production of medical records.  Plaintiff sought to certify a state wide class comprised of all similarly-situated individuals that had requested their records from CAMC or other providers serviced by HealthPort, who had been similarly charged purportedly excessive fees under West Virginia law.

The case arose from Plaintiff’s retention of a law firm (“Plaintiff’s Firm”) to prosecute a medical malpractice claim against a nursing home.  Plaintiff entered into a contingent fee agreement with Plaintiff’s Firm, whereby it would front all litigation expenses and only receive reimbursement, if there was a recovery on Plaintiff’s behalf.

Plaintiff’s Firm requested his medical records from CAMC.  HealthPort, which served as CAMC’s health information management provider, processed Plaintiff’s Firm’s request and invoiced it for the records.  Plaintiff’s Firm paid HealthPort’s invoice and filed the class action on Plaintiff’s behalf soon thereafter. At the time the class action complaint was filed, Plaintiff’s medical malpractice claim was pending and no money had been recovered on his behalf.

Defendants moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Plaintiff’s claims were not ripe and that he did not have standing because not only had he not yet paid for his medical records, but he may never pay for them.  The trial court denied Defendants’ motion for summary judgment.  Defendants petitioned the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia for a writ of prohibition to stop the circuit court from exercising jurisdiction over the case.

The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia agreed with Defendants’ argument that Plaintiff lacked standing, thereby depriving the circuit court of jurisdiction.  The Court summarized standing as “[a] party’s right to make a legal claim or seek judicial enforcement of a duty or right,” Findley v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 213 W.Va. 80, 94, 576 S.E.2d 807, 821 (2002) (quoting Black’s Law Dictionary 1413 (7th ed. 1999)), and reviewed the three elements of standing as follows:

First, the party attempting to establish standing must have suffered an “injury-in-fact” – an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent and not conjectural or hypothetical.  Second, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct forming the basis


Continue Reading MG+M Obtains Summary Judgment Via Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia’s Decision that Plaintiff Lacked Constitutional Standing to Bring Class Action Claim