MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Legal Newsline)
– The Supreme Court of Alabama has ruled that in cases in which a
layperson can understand the consequences of medical negligence, an
expert is not needed, reversing a summary dismissal of a medical
On Feb. 17, the Supreme Court of
Alabama reversed and remanded a lower court summary judgment in favor
of the defendants in Betty Collins v. Herring Chiropractic Center
LLC, and Ricardo Herring, an appeal from Jefferson Circuit Court.
The suit states that on July 9, 2012, Betty Collins visited
Dr. Ricardo Herring for treatment for her injured knee. Over the
course of Collins' visit, Herring's assistant allegedly applied a cold pack
directly to Collins' knee.
Collins claims that she noticed that the cold pack had
been retrieved from a refrigerator rather a table, where she had seen
it in earlier appointments. She also alleges she observed that this cold pack was
much harder than it had been in earlier appointments and instead of
cold, the cold pack felt warm against her skin.
Within a few hours of the cold pack's
application Collins began to blister in the areas where it had been
in contact with her skin and later she developed scarring in the same
area, the suit states.
On July 7, 2014, Collins sued the
defendants, alleging medical malpractice arising from the application
of the cold pack to her knee. The defendants filed a request of
summary judgment, arguing that Collins had not designated an
expert witness who could authoritatively argue that Herring had
breached his duty of care in treating Collins as required under the
Alabama Medical Liability Act.
In addition, the defendants argued
Collins had not met the necessary standard for a malpractice claim
because she did not produce any evidence showing that Herring's
treatment fell below the applicable standard of care. The circuit
court agreed with the defendants and issued summary judgment in
Collins appealed, arguing that the
circuit court had erred in entering a summary judgment for the
defendants. She countered that expert testimony is not required to
establish either the standard of care or the causal connection
between the defendants' acts and her injuries.
She argued that Alabama courts have long since settled that there is an exception to
the rule requiring expert testimony "in a case where want of
skill or lack of care is so apparent ... as to be understood by a
layman, and requires only common knowledge and experience to
understand it," as stated in Tuscaloosa Orthopedic Appliance
Co. v. Wyatt.
court went on to note that in Ex parte HealthSouth Corp.
the exceptions to this rule were
clarified to include situations “where the lack of skill is so
apparent as to be understood by a layperson, thereby requiring only
common knowledge and experience to understand it.”
court found that the blistering and scarring indicated that some form
of negligence was to be found in the application of the cold pack and that the relationship between the application of the cold pack
and Collins' injuries was such that it could be understood by a
layperson. For this reason the court rejected the summary judgment
and remanded the case back to the circuit court.