Minnesota Medical Malpractice

Legal Outline

Expert Qualifications: Part II

A previous post addressed the standard for expert testimony in Minnesota, but the Minnesota Supreme Court further clarified the standard in Marquardt v. Schaffhausen, 941 N.W.2d 715 (Minn.2020).

The underlying case involved some sort of systemic MRSA infection following an orthopedic surgery that resulted in neurologic harm. The plaintiff argued that the surgeon should not have proceeded with a knee replacement on a visibly infected knee and the systemic infection that followed was caused by that negligence. Both sides had competing theories about what happened following the surgery and whether the plaintiff suffered from sequelae from one of two neurological conditions – PRES or ADEM. The trial resulted in a significant jury verdict on behalf of the plaintiff. Following the verdict, the Minnesota court of appeals overturned it, reasoning that the plaintiff’s orthopedic surgeon expert and treating infectious disease expert lacked the occupational experience needed to give an opinion on causation because they lacked experience treating either ADEM or PRES. Marquardt v. Schaffhausen, No. A18-0968 (Minn. App. 2019).

While the court of appeals was distracted by the issue of whether the harms were ultimately caused by ADEM or PRES, the Supreme Court explained that the question was not relevant. “Instead, the basic causation question is whether…the knee-replacement surgery ‘is a cause of the damage that we all recognize occurred in this case.'” The orthopedic expert had experience treating MRSA infections and was familiar with the impact that type of infection could have on the patient, so it wasn’t necessarily important for him to have hands-on experience that would allow him to diagnose the specific complication that ultimately followed the surgery. So keeping in mind the highly-deferential abuse-of-discretion standard that should be applied when reviewing the trial court’s decision to accept the plaintiff’s experts’ testimony, the Supreme Court reversed and the jury verdict ultimately stood.