Sunday, May 25, 2008

Nebraska Supreme Court allows expert in a medical malpractice case related to delayed treatment of a spinal cord injury to testify in his affidavit that had the defendant doctors not delayed diagnosing and treating the plaintiff's injury the plaintiff more likely than not would have experienced a better outcome from treatment. The Supreme Court distinguishes this proper opinion that a better outcome would result from giving improper opinions that the plaintiff lost a chance to recover. Rankin v. Stetson, S-07-073, 275 Neb. 775 an opinion framed in terms of loss of chance would not sustain Rankin’s burden of establishing that the defendants proximately caused her injury. We also note that Nebraska has not recognized the loss-of-chance doctrine. See Steineke v. Share Health Plan of Neb., 246 Neb. 374, 518 N.W.2d 904 (1994). Gross’ statements that Rankin would have had a “better prognosis” and a “chance of avoiding permanent neurological injury” do not equate with an opinion that it was more likely than not that Rankin would have had a better outcome if she had undergone surgery immediately following her injury. Opinions dealing with proximate causation are required to be given in terms that express a probability greater than 50 percent. Thus, Gross’ statements do not establish the required certainty to prove causation. While a 49-percent chance of a better recovery may be medically significant, it does not meet the legal requirements for proof of causation. The terms “chance” and “prognosis” by definition do not establish the certainty of proof that is required. On the other hand, an opinion expressed in terms that it is more likely than not that a plaintiff “would have had a better outcome” is sufficiently certain to establish causation. A better outcome is not the same as a chance of a better outcome. Rather, it is a definite result. In this case, there were statements within Gross’ affidavit that were sufficient to establish causation. When reviewing a summary judgment, we view Gross’ affidavit in a light most favorable to Rankin and give her the benefit of all reasonable inferences from such evidence. Contrary to the defendants’ assertion, Gross’ affidavit espoused more than a mere “loss of chance.” Gross opined that early surgical decompression of the spinal cord would more likely than not have led to an improved outcome for Rankin. This evidence established causation for the purpose of opposing the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on such issue. Thus, Gross’ affidavit satisfied the requirement that Rankin produce some expert testimony to establish that the actions or inactions of the defendants were a proximate cause of Rankin’s injury. Nebraska Advance Sheets Ran kin v. Stetson 787 Cite as 275 Neb. 775

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