In a recent case, a woman who was 38-39 weeks pregnant was driving in a sedan when it was hit from behind by a school bus. In the crash, she was pushed forward, causing bruises and painful injuries in her shoulders and neck. She called 911 and was taken to the hospital in an ambulance.
At the hospital, a physician induced labor and she gave birth to her daughter. The woman had experienced a normal pregnancy with no complications, nor were there any signs of complications to her baby.
When she was born, the baby seemed healthy and did not demonstrate any signs of developmental issues. However, when she was 6 months old, it became clear that the baby struggled to use anything on the right side of her body. The baby was determined to have cerebral palsy brought on by a perinatal stroke.
The woman sued the District as herself and as the “next friend” of her daughter, claiming that the stroke and cerebral palsy were caused by the bus hitting her car.
During the neurologist’s deposition, she testified that the baby had definitely suffered cerebral palsy because of the perinatal stroke and that perinatal strokes are caused by trauma in utero. In her opinion, the stroke had happened somewhere between 30 weeks gestation and one month of age. She also opined that it was possible the trauma happened in the bus accident, but that she couldn’t be more than 50% sure of a causal connection. Perinatal strokes often occur without clinical symptoms.
The District filed partial summary judgment motion on the issue of causation. It argued that the causation in this case was a specialized medical question that required expert testimony regarding a ” reasonable degree of certainty.” The District argued a 50% possibility fell below that standard.
The trial court granted the District’s motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of causation. The woman appealed on the grounds that whether the accident caused the stroke was not a specialized medical question, but a question for the jury.
The appellate court reversed. It explained that it agreed with the District that the causal connection was a specialized medical question. However, issues of negligence are questions for the jury, generally.
The woman claimed on appeal that because the action was for simple negligence, expert testimony on causation did not need to be produced. The court clarified that even in simple negligence cases, a plaintiff must produce expert evidence when medical questions relating to causation are involved. Medical questions exist if the causal link between the defendant’s actions and a plaintiff’s injury can’t be determined from common knowledge.
In this case, the causal link between the car accident causing injuries to the mother and the baby’s stroke couldn’t be determined from common knowledge. Therefore expert testimony was needed. However, the appellate court explained that the woman had presented enough expert and non-expert advice to create a question of fact. Therefore, the trial court’s grant of summary judgment was improper.
Medical expert testimony that shows a reasonable possibility can be helped with other medical or non-medical evidence that together showed causation even though the medical opinion was weak. Therefore the judgment was reversed.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a motor vehicle, you may be wondering if you can file a lawsuit and recover damages for your loss. Contact experienced Atlanta personal injury attorney Terrence R. Bethune at 404-875-7800 or via our online form for a consultation.