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Hall v. Shiff

Superior Court of Rhode Island

March 5, 2015

PAULINE R. HALL, Plaintiff,
RITA SHIFF, PA-C, BROWN UNIVERSITY in Providence in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, and QUEST DIAGNOSTICS, LLC Defendants.

Providence County Superior Court

For Plaintiff: Yvette M. Boisclair, Esq. Mark S. Mandell, Esq.

For Defendant: Stephen P. Harten, Esq. Anthony S. Aprea, Esq. William J. Dailey, Jr., Esq. Mark P. Dolan, Esq.



Before this Court is Third-Party Plaintiff Brown University's (Brown) Motion to Strike Third-Party Defendant Quest Diagnostics, LLC's (Quest) designation of Mark D. Aronson, M.D. as an expert. For the reasons set forth below, Brown's Motion is denied.

I Facts & Travel

The basic facts of this matter have been previously recounted in this Court's prior decisions.[1] Accordingly, the Court will supplement the facts as necessary to decide the instant Motion.

In March 2008, Pauline Hall (Ms. Hall) commenced the instant action against Rita Shiff (Ms. Shiff), Brown, and Quest. Ms. Hall alleged negligent treatment and diagnosis by Ms. Shiff and Brown, as well as negligent laboratory testing by Quest. See Hall, 2013 WL 2363143, at *1. At that time, Quest provided laboratory testing services at Brown University Health Services pursuant to a Professional Services Agreement. On December 10, 2010, Brown filed a cross-claim against Quest alleging negligence, breach of contract, indemnity, and contribution.[2] Brown alleges that Quest was negligent in the provision of laboratory services to Ms. Hall and, furthermore, that Quest's negligence was a proximate cause of Ms. Hall's injuries.

When Ms. Hall was originally treated at Brown University Health Services, she was treated by Ms. Shiff, a physician's assistant employed by Brown. The parties disagree as to whether Ms. Shiff was negligent in her treatment of Ms. Hall. Accordingly, both parties have retained expert witnesses in the field of internal medicine to opine as to whether Ms. Hall acted within the standard of care. Quest has disclosed Mark D. Aronson, M.D. (Dr. Aronson) and Brown has disclosed Daniel J. Sullivan, M.D. (Dr. Sullivan). Dr. Sullivan and Dr. Aronson are colleagues and members of the same practice. Sullivan Dep. 125:14, Dec. 18, 2014. Currently, Dr. Aronson holds certain positions at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center superior to those held there by Dr. Sullivan. Id at 129:6-129:10.

II Standard of Review

The law regarding the admissibility of an expert witness's testimony is well-settled. "When a party seeks to introduce, through expert testimony, novel scientific or complex technical evidence, it is proper for the trial justice to exercise a gatekeeping function." Owens v. Silvia, 838 A.2d 881, 891 (R.I. 2003) (citing DiPetrillo v. Dow Chem. Co., 729 A.2d 677, 687 (R.I. 1999)). "A trial justice's ruling on the admissibility of an expert witness's proffered testimony 'will be sustained provided the discretion has been soundly and judicially exercised, that is, if it has been exercised in the light of reason applied to all the facts and with a view to the rights of all the parties to the action, . . . and not arbitrarily or willfully, but with just regard to what is right and equitable under the circumstances and the law.'" Owens, 838 A.2d at 890 (quoting DeBartolo v. DiBattista, 117 R.I. 349, 353, 367 A.2d 701, 703 (1976)). "The purpose of expert testimony is to aid in the search for the truth. It need not be conclusive and has no special status in the evidentiary framework of a trial." Morra v. Harrop, 791 A.2d 472, 477 (R.I. 2002). "[A] jury is free to accept or to reject expert testimony in whole or in part or to accord it what probative value the jury deems appropriate." Id.

Rule 702 of the Rhode Island Rules of Evidence (Rule 702) addresses the testimony of experts and states that "[i]f scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of fact or opinion." See Owens, 838 A.2d at 890. In addition, G.L. 1956 § 9-19-41, entitled "Expert witnesses in malpractice cases[, ]" provides:

"In any legal action based upon a cause of action . . . for personal injury or wrongful death filed against a licensed physician, hospital, clinic, health maintenance organization, professional service corporation providing health care services . . . based on professional negligence, only those persons who by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education qualify as experts in the field of the ...

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