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Hodges v. University of Mississippi Medical Center

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

September 12, 2017

KARL HODGES, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF OTHER WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF ISAAC HODGES, DECEASED, AND AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF ISAAC HODGES APPELLANT
v.
THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI MEDICAL CENTER APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 04/07/2016

         HINDS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT, HON. JEFF WEILL SR., TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: JAY MAX KILPATRICK

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: WALTER T. JOHNSON SUSAN LATHAM STEFFEY WILLIAM ABRAM ORLANSKY

          BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., CARLTON AND GREENLEE, JJ.

          CARLTON, J.

         ¶1. Karl Hodges, individually and on behalf of other wrongful-death beneficiaries of Isaac Hodges, deceased, and as administrator of the estate of Isaac Hodges, filed suit against the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) asserting a claim of medical negligence stemming from the death of Karl's son, Isaac. At a bench trial, Karl tendered Dr. Lawrence Brickman as an expert witness in the field of general vascular and trauma surgery. After hearing testimony from Dr. Brickman, the trial judge made a ruling from the bench finding Dr. Brickman's testimony unreliable and insufficient to support a claim of medical negligence. The trial judge then entered a judgment in favor of UMMC.

         ¶2. Karl now appeals, asserting that the trial judge erred in finding Dr. Brickman unqualified to render an expert medical opinion in the present case. Finding no error, we affirm the trial judge's judgment of dismissal in favor of UMMC.

         FACTS

         ¶3. Shortly before midnight on January 10, 2013, Isaac was admitted to UMMC for treatment of two gunshot wounds. The record reflects that Dr. Douglas Soltys performed an exploratory laparotomy on Hodges. Dr. Soltys discovered that Hodges suffered from a large gastric perforation, a liver wound, issues with his gallbladder, and a fractured humerus. Dr. Soltys performed a repair of the perforation, a cholecystectomy, and a packing of the liver bed during the initial procedure. After the procedure, Hodges remained in the surgical intensive-care unit (SICU) until Dr. Wesley Vanderlan performed a wound closure secondary abdomen procedure on January 11, 2013.

         ¶4. As part of the monitoring process postsurgery, Isaac's physician and nurse asked Isaac if he had experienced a bowel movement and passed gas since his surgery. Isaac's mother, Celesta Hodges, testified that Isaac untruthfully told the physician and nurse that he had experienced a bowel movement and passed gas.

         ¶5. UMMC discharged Isaac on January 15, 2013. Celesta testified that shortly after leaving the hospital, Isaac's condition deteriorated, so she and Karl drove Isaac back to UMMC for treatment. Isaac died four days later. In the autopsy, the coroner listed Isaac's manner of death as homicide and opined that Isaac's death was caused by complications from multiple gunshot wounds.

         ¶6. On January 7, 2014, Karl filed a complaint alleging that UMMC was liable for Isaac's death based on medical malpractice due to the collective alleged negligence of members of its medical staff who provided medical care to Isaac. At a bench trial held on February 3, 2016, the trial judge heard testimony from Celesta, Dr. Brickman, and Dan Murphy, a friend of the Hodges family who visited Isaac in the hospital.

         ¶7. The record reflects that at the bench trial, Karl tendered Dr. Brickman as an expert witness in the field of general vascular and trauma surgery, as well as the coordination of residency programs. Counsel for UMMC objected and requested that the trial judge allow him to voir dire Dr. Brickman regarding the doctor's qualifications.

         ¶8. During voir dire by counsel for UMMC, Dr. Brickman explained that he does not have an office in general surgery and is no longer board certified, but he "do[es] academic things in general surgery." Dr. Brickman admitted that he is not the primary surgeon on any surgery, but that he does assist in surgery three times a week. Dr. Brickman confirmed that he had not been the primary surgeon, "or the one [who] cuts, " in over a decade, nor had he provided a patient with postoperative care since 2005. Dr. Brickman also admitted that he had never possessed a board certification in critical-care medicine.

         ¶9. Counsel for UMMC also questioned Dr. Brickman about the relevant standard of care in the present case, as well as Dr. Brickman's definition of standard of care:

Q: You have testified before that the standard of care is how you would do a thing?
A: Yes, I have.
Q: And is that still your opinion ...

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