A medical malpractice plaintiff from Idaho finds himself without an expert because the witness failed to adequately familiarize himself with the standards of local eye surgeons concerning a cataract patient’s past Flomax use.
Franz Suhadolnik underwent cataract surgery on May 31, 2006. The procedure was performed by Dr. Scott Pressman, a Boise eye surgeon.
The surgery did not go well.
Dr. Pressman encountered a “floppy iris” in the eye he was working on. To be more precise, during the surgery the lens capsule came out of position, allowing vitreous fluid to leak into the anterior chamber of the eye.
This forced Dr. Pressman to place the intraocular lens in the anterior portion of the eye, rather in the preferred posterior position.
As a result of this complication, Suhadolnik is legally blind in the eye.
After the surgery, Dr. Pressman asked Suhadolnik about whether he had ever used Flomax or a similar medication that could cause a floppy iris.
As we know all too well from incessant television commercials, Flomax is used to treat males with urination problems.
As early as 2005, there were indications in the medical journals that prior use of Flomax places patients at risk of greater complications during cataract surgery. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration posted a safety alert for Flomax in November 2005.
Suhadolnik had been prescribed Flomax in December 2005, but stopped taking it in January 2006.
Dr. Pressman claims that the first time he learned of Suhadolnik’s prior use of Flomax was following the May 2006 surgery.
In Suhadolnik’s subsequent suit for medical malpractice, he claimed that Dr. Pressman was negligent in failing to adequately inquire about his prior use of the prescription drug.
On the standard of care, Suhadolnik wanted to introduce the testimony of a Dr. Hofbauer.
Dr. Hofbauer is from Beverly Hills, California, so the central issue regarding the admissibility of his testimony was whether he had knowledge of the standard of care of Boise eye surgeons at the time of Suhadolnik’s surgery.
The trial court decided Dr. Hofbauer did not have actual knowledge of the local standards and excluded his affidavit.
Left without an expert, Suhadolnik had his case thrown out on summary judgment.
Wednesday, the Idaho Supreme Court decided that the trial judge had it right in excluding Suhadolnik’s expert.
The problem was that Dr. Hofbauer took a shortcut in trying to learn what the local standard was — relying on the deposition of Dr. Pressman. This proved fatal because Dr. Pressman said that he was unaware of a local standard of care regarding Flomax, claiming that at the time the medical evidence was inconclusive as to the risk posed to cataract patients.
The state supreme court observed that “Dr. Pressman’s deposition does not establish that the local standard has been replaced by a national standard because there is no mention anywhere in the deposition regarding a national standard. Consequently, Dr. Hofbauer’s statement that the standard of care is equivalent to a national standard is without foundation and inadmissible.”
The court faulted Dr. Hofbauer for failing to take the simple step of calling a Boise eye surgeon to discuss local standards, as well as Suhadolnik’s attorney for failing to do a better job in filling the gaps in his case.
“The record in this case does not reflect what efforts, if any, Suhadolnik or his expert made to learn the standard of care from a local practitioner (other than from Dr. Pressman’s deposition), but it isn’t too much to ask of a plaintiff that some effort be made. …
“Failing that, Suhadolnik’s counsel could have made a more valiant effort to piece together a case from Dr. Pressman’s deposition and affidavit but failed to do so,” the court said. (Suhadolnik v. Pressman)
— Pat Murphy