We were counting on you for favorable testimony!

by Walter Olson on April 8, 2008

A Utah federal court will consider the Pace family’s lawsuit against California anesthesiologist Barry Swerdlow, whom they had earlier hired as an expert witness as part of their medical liability suit against another anesthesiologist, Stephen Shuput, whom they blamed for their late daughter’s death. After agreeing to come on board as an expert for the Paces, Swerdlow examined Shuput’s deposition and concluded that Shuput had met the standard of care; he proceeded to inform Shuput’s lawyers of this, and they quickly got the case dismissed. The Paces then sued Swerdlow for “malpractice, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and negligent infliction of emotional distress,” to quote AMNews’s catalogue. Swerdlow conceded that he was new at the expert witness game and that it would probably have been a good idea for him to have read Shuput’s deposition earlier. The EleventhTenth Circuit ruled that a lower court should consider the Paces’s contention that they had suffered legally actionable damages from Swerdlow’s actions. (Bonnie Booth, “Expert who changed mind claims immunity, but plaintiffs still sue”, American Medical News, Apr. 14).

Judge Gorsuch, dissenting from the EleventhTenth Circuit’s ruling, wrote:

Parties already exert substantial influence over expert witnesses, often paying them handsomely for their time, and expert witnesses are, unfortunately and all too frequently, already regarded in some quarters as little more than hired guns. When expert witnesses can be forced to defend themselves in federal court beyond the pleading stage simply for changing their opinions – with no factual allegation to suggest anything other than an honest change in view based on a review of new information – we add fuel to this fire. We make candor an expensive option and risk incenting experts to dissemble rather than change their views in the face of compelling new information. The loser in all this is, of course, the truth-finding function and cause of justice our legal system is designed to serve.

(Decision of the Day, Mar. 5; Karen Franklin, Forensic Psychologist, Mar. 7; The Briefcase, Mar. 7).

{ 2 comments }

1 Hans Bader 04.08.08 at 10:19 am

The news coverage may have gotten the name of the appeals court wrong.

Utah is in the Tenth Circuit, not the Eleventh Circuit (and Judge Gorsuch is a Tenth Circuit judge).

2 Walter Olson 05.31.08 at 10:17 pm

More discussion by Robert Ambrogi at Bullseye here, quoting Ted: http://tinyurl.com/6xwr5u .

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