December 7, 2017

Life Expectancy Relates To Damages; McDaniel v. Robertson

Category: Indiana Law Review | Author: | Share:

Most of the time, it does not matter whether a particular piece of evidence relates to liability or damages—it’s coming into evidence either way. But this distinction does matter when the trial is a damages-only trial, such as when a plaintiff is trying to recover from the Patient’s Compensation Fund. And in this case, the Court expanded the type of evidence the Fund can rely upon when defending against claims.

Christopher McDaniels was 31 and weighed more than 500 pounds. He was admitted to the emergency room for a variety of symptoms and was evaluated by Dr. Lam. Dr. Lam determined that McDaniels had low potassium levels, and gave him some potassium. But Dr. Lam did not check the potassium levels again and discharged McDaniels. McDaniels got worse when being transported from the hospital by ambulance. He was taken to another hospital, where he died. The cause of death was a condition associated with low potassium blood levels.

The estate filed a proposed complaint with the Department of Insurance, and the medical review panel unanimously found that Dr. Lam was negligent. This eventually led to a settlement, and McDaniels filed a petition seeking excess damages from the Fund. The matter proceeded to a bench trial, where the court took judicial notice of the life expectancy tables, which showed an expectancy of 46.8 years. But the trial court also allowed the testimony of a Dr. Tobin, who testified that McDaniels’ physical condition led him to conclude that McDaniels’ real life expectancy was two to four years. Ultimately, the trial court found that McDaniels’ life expectancy was six years, and based its damages award accordingly. McDaniels appealed.

On appeal, McDaniels argue that Dr. Tobin’s opinion should have been excluded for two reasons: (1) it represented a new argument on liability issues, and (2) it didn’t meet Rule 702(b)’s criteria for admissibility.

Unfortunately for McDaniels, the Court found that his argument on the first issue was not exactly clear. And while it acknowledged that the trial was a damages-only trial, it also found that the Fund should be allowed to introduce all of its damages-related evidence. And the Court concluded that life-expectancy evidence would “assist the court in determining the damages owed as a result of the negligence.”

The Court then turned to the argument regarding Rule 702(b). And again, the Court found that the trial court did not err by allowing Dr. Tobin to testify.

The expert testimony at issue on this appeal concerns Christopher’s life expectancy. A person’s life expectancy is beyond the knowledge of a layperson. As discussed above, Dr. Tobin has been a physician for forty-one years and is board certified in critical care medicine. During his tenure as a physician, Dr. Tobin has treated thousands of patients who had conditions similar to Christopher’s. Based on Dr. Tobin’s extensive experience, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted his video deposition testimony into evidence.

Thus, the trial court’s judgment was affirmed.

Lesson:

Life expectancy evidence is relevant to a damages determination and is the proper subject of expert testimony.