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Chesnut v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

December 17, 2019

DEBRA CHESNUT and GLENN CHESNUT, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Gregory F. Van Tatenhove United States District Judge

         This case is a medical malpractice action alleging that Defendants were negligent in their care of Plaintiff Debra Chesnut. Pending before the Court are Defendant United States' Motion to Exclude the testimony of one of Plaintiffs' experts, J. Gregory Roberts, M.D, and the United States' alternative Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons that follow, these motions are DENIED.

         I

         A

         In a diversity action, the substantive elements of a medical malpractice suit are questions to be determined by state law. Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938). Under Kentucky law, a plaintiff must establish the following elements in a medical malpractice case: standard of care, breach of the standard of care, causation, and injury. Clines v. Susan E. Janocik, M.D., PLLC, No. 2016-CA-000122-MR, 2017 WL 2705401, at *5 (Ky. Ct. App. June 23, 2017). As to the first element, to meet the standard of care a physician must “use the degree of care and skill expected of a competent practitioner of the same class and under similar circumstances.” Grubbs ex rel. Grubbs v. Barbourville Family Health Ctr., P.S.C., 120 S.W.3d 682, 687 (Ky. 2003). Notably, a plaintiff must generally establish each of the four elements by way of expert testimony. Clines, 2017 WL 2705401, at *5 (citing Blankenship v. Collier, 302 S.W.3d 665 (Ky. 2010)). Where a plaintiff fails to introduce evidence sufficient to establish each element, then the defendants are entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. See, e.g., Blankenship, 302 S.W.3d at 668.

         B

         While state law governs substantive claims in a diversity case, federal law generally governs procedural and evidentiary issues, including the admissibility of expert testimony. Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). Admissibility of expert testimony is governed specifically by Federal Rule of Evidence 702, which states:

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if: (a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue; (b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data; (c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and (d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

Fed. R. Evid. 702. The Sixth Circuit has identified three specific Rule 702 requirements in deciding the admissibility of proposed expert testimony. In re Scrap Metal Antitrust Litig., 527 F.3d 517, 528-29 (6th Cir. 2008). First, the proposed expert must have the requisite qualifications, whether it be through “knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.” Id. at 529 (quoting Fed.R.Evid. 702). Second, the testimony must be relevant, meaning that it “will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.” Id. (quoting Fed.R.Evid. 702). Third, the testimony must be reliable. Id.; see also Daubert, 509 U.S. at 590.

         As to the third requirement, Rule 702 provides a number of standards by which a district court in its gatekeeper role is to gauge reliability of expert testimony. A court should look to whether the testimony is based upon “sufficient facts or data;” whether it is the “product of reliable principles and methods;” and whether the expert “has applied these principles or methods reliably to the facts of the case.” In re Scrap Metal Antitrust Litig., 527 F.3d at 529 (quoting Fed.R.Evid. 702). Additionally, in determining reliability, a district court is to consider “such factors as testing, peer review, publication, error rates, the existence and maintenance of standards controlling the technique's operation, and general acceptance in the relevant scientific [or technical] community.” United States v. Langan, 263 F.3d 613, 621 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing Daubert, 509 U.S. at 593-94). The reliability inquiry is a flexible one, and the above factors are not a “definitive checklist or test.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 593.

         District courts are given broad discretion in determining whether a particular expert's testimony is reliable. See, e.g., Tamraz v. Lincoln Elec. Co., 620 F.3d 665, 672 (6th Cir. 2010); see also Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 152 (1999) (“[T]he trial judge must have considerable leeway in deciding in a particular case how to go about determining whether particular expert testimony is reliable.”). Notably, in exercising this discretion, a court must be careful not “to impinge on the role of the jury or opposing counsel.” Burgett v. Troy-Bilt LLC, 579 Fed.Appx. 372, 377 (6th Cir. 2014). Instead, “vigorous cross-examination, presentation of contrary evidence, and careful instruction on the burden of proof are the traditional and appropriate means of attacking shaky but admissible evidence.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 596.

         II

         Plaintiffs indicate they intend to call Dr. J. Gregory Roberts to testify, in relevant part, that Dr. Jared Madden deviated from the accepted standard of care and that this deviation was a proximate cause of Chesnut's injury. In turn, the United States[1] filed the present motion, asking the Court to exclude Dr. Roberts' expert testimony on these issues of standard of care and causation. [R. 221.] Specifically, the United States argues that Dr. Roberts' statements in both his written expert reports and his deposition testimony ...


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