Florida Court Tosses Damage Award Over Expert Testimony

If you have been seriously injured in an auto accident, you may face significant bills for past and future medical expenses related to your treatment. If the accident was caused by someone else’s negligence, you can seek to recover those expenses through a personal injury lawsuit. But a court will require expert evidence to document such medical costs. It is not simply a matter of presenting a bill.

Physician’s Assistant Not Qualified to Offer Opinion About Future Surgery

The Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal recently overturned a jury award for future medical damages due to insufficient expert testimony. The plaintiff in this case was injured in a motorcycle accident. He subsequently sued his own insurance carrier for uninsured motorist benefits. At trial, a physician’s assistant who worked for the plaintiff’s orthopedic surgeon testified with respect to pain injections he administered to the plaintiff to treat his shoulder pain following the accident.

The physician’s assistant also offered his opinion that due to continuing severe shoulder pain, the plaintiff would “need possibly one or two more injections at most and then surgical decompression of the shoulder.” The assistant further explained how much these procedures would cost. Based on this testimony and other evidence, the jury returned a partial verdict in favor of the plaintiff and awarded $166,000 in damages, which included approximately $70,000 for anticipated future medical expenses.

On appeal, the insurance company argued the physician’s assistant was not qualified to offer “expert” testimony on the plaintiff’s future need for surgery. A physician’s assistant is not licensed to practice medicine. Rather, he is someone who works under the supervision of a licensed physician. Indeed, the physician’s assistant in this case conceded at trial that it was ultimately his supervising surgeon’s “call” on what future treatment the plaintiff requires; however, he further said he was familiar with how the plaintiff’s surgeon thinks and felt confidant that he would recommend surgery.

The Fifth District found the physician assistant’s assurances unpersuasive. While the court said a physician’s assistant could offer expert testimony with regard to “the treatment and care he provided” personally—such as the prior pain injections in this case—he did not have the “requisite knowledge and skill necessary” to independently render medical opinions with respect to the potential need for surgery. The Fifth District said it was “unable to locate any authority” that would support such testimony by a physician’s assistant. For that reason, the court ordered a new trial on the sole issue of future medical expenses. The court did not disturb the rest of the jury’s verdict, including the award of damages for past medical expenses.

Get Advice from a Florida Personal Injury Lawyer

Expert testimony is often critical to winning a personal injury lawsuit. If you have received medical treatment following an accident, it is important to obtain proper documentation from qualified medical providers. An experienced Clearwater personal injury attorney can assist you with this and all other aspects of your lawsuit. Contact the Law Office of Paul B. Genet, P.A., at (727) 538-8865 today.

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