The First District Illinois Appellate Court held that an oncologist was not qualified to testify as an expert witness against a surgeon accused of failing to diagnose a patient’s lymphoma. Carol and Robert McWilliams v. Donald Dettore, et al., No. 1-07-0678. This case highlights the importance of Chicago Medical Malpractice Attorneys selecting the most qualified expert within the appropriate medical field of specialty to use as expert witnesses in Illinois medical malpractice cases.
The plaintiff brought a medical malpractice action against Dr. Christopher Joyce, a surgeon, for failing to diagnose non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The plaintiff retained Dr. Hector Gomez, a hematologist/oncologist, to testify that Joyce violated the standard of care when he chose not to perform a biopsy on Carol McWilliam’s swollen lymphnodes.
McWilliams was later diagnosed with stage IV lymphoma, which cannot be cured. The plaintiff argued that her lymphoma would have been curable if caught sooner.
The court granted the defendant’s motion in limine to bar Dr. Gomez from testifying as an expert witness. The court held that Gomez was not qualified because he had no experience with the decision-making process used by surgeons in deciding whether to perform a biopsy. According to the court, “before a plaintiff’s expert may step into the shoes of a defendant doctor to assess his medical skills, the plaintiff’s expert must demonstrate he is familiar with the medical standard against which the defendant doctor’s medical judgment must be measured.”
The court conceded that, in certain circumstances, an oncologist might be qualified to testify against a surgeon. “While it is not beyond the realm of possibility that an oncologist may be capable of criticizing a surgeon’s decision to forego a biopsy, Dr. Gomez’s testimony did not demonstrate the necessary expertise.”
A further point of interest for practicing Chicago Medical Negligence Lawyers is the court’s application of de novo review, as opposed an abuse of discretion standard.
This case stresses the importance of selecting the right medical expert witness(es) early in the investigation stage, before the medical malpractice lawsuit is even filed. Here, after the court granted the defendant’s motion in limine, the plaintiffs sought to voluntarily dismiss their case (and re-file at a later date). However, the court refused because the jury had already been sworn.
Therefore, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s medical malpractice lawsuit with prejudice. This means the plaintiff can never have her day in court, all because her attorney chose the wrong expert.