Summary of Wilder v. Eberhart, S. Ct. 1992
Relevant Facts: Pl was being treated by Df for obesity. The df performed surgery by stapling her stomach. Afterward PL suffered serious complications from tears in her esophagus. Testimony was provided that the sole cause was the mobilization of the esophagus during surgery. Df attempted to introduce experts of his own but their testimony was excluded. Ct found the evidence they would provide could only be expressed as mere possibility and not probability.
Legal Issue(s): Whether the df should have been allowed to introduce other possible causes for the injury?
Court’s Holding: Yes
Procedure: Jury awarded the Pl $685,000. Df appeals, Vacated and remanded.
Law or Rule(s): 1) Duty, 2) Breach of Duty 3) causation, and 4) damages. The causation element requires proof of both cause in fact and proximate cause.
Proximate cause between negligence and the injury, in a medical malpractice case, must be established by expert testimony.
Court Rationale: The PL bears the burden of proof in a negligence case and to prove that it is more likely than not that Pl’s injury was caused by DF’s negligence. A df may produce other possible causes of the pl’s injury. These possible causes don’t have to be proven within a degree of certainty or probability. Pl’s expert testified no other cause could have caused the injury. The burden then shifts to the Df to prove that another cause, not negligence, by using experts, could have caused the injury.
Plaintiff’s Argument: When a prima facie case has been established the df cannot overcome that certainty with additional evidence of other possibilities.
Defendant’s Argument: Df’s experts could have testified and proven that another cause of the injury, not negligence, nor the cause stated by Pl’s expert, existed.