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Court abandoned precedent & allowed nurse testimony.

CASE ON POINT: Freed v. Gisenger Medical Center, 77MAP 2007 (9/28/2010) A.2d -PA

CASE FACTS: It is unusual for a State Supreme Court to grant a petition for rehearing after the court has rendered its decision in a case. However, in this unusual Pennsylvania case, the state' Supreme Court granted a petition for it to rehear the arguments in this case. Ultimately, the court affirmed its original decision.

COURT'S OPINION: In the original decision, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the Superior Court's reversal of the trial court's grant of a compulsory nonsuit in favor of the defendants, Geisinger Medical Center and Health South Corporation (collectively, Geisinger). In that case the court addressed whether, as a matter of law, a nurse may testify in a negligence action that a breach of the nursing standard of care caused a plaintiff's medical condition. Ultimately, the court held that an otherwise competent and properly qualified nurse is not prohibited by Professional Nursing Law from giving expert testimony at trial regarding medical causation. In so holding, the court overruled, sua sponte, its own prior decision in the leading case on that issue, wherein the court had held a nurse was precluded from offering opinion testimony regarding the specific identity and cause of a medical condition because such testimony constituted a medical diagnosis, which a nurse is precluded from making under Professional Nursing Law. The court noted that in its original opinion, it concluded that the case that had been followed as precedent was inherently flawed because it applied a percentage of the Professional Nursing law, and a percentage governing the specific practice of nursing in the distinct area of expert testimony in a court of law, which is governed by rules of evidence, rules of civil procedure, and common law rules regarding expert witnesses. The court went on to state that it further determined that its decision applied retroactively to the parties in the instant case, and, therefore, that the trial court could, on remand, assess the competency of the plaintiff's witness, a registered nurse, to testify regarding the relevant nursing standard of care and medical causation under the common law standard as set forth in another Pennsylvania case, which held that a registered nurse can testify regarding the relevant nursing standard of care and medical causation under the common law standards set forth in other cases. While the court noted that it granted the petition for reargument, inter alia, on

COURT'S OPINION: The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in its decision, after hearing reargument of the case, affirmed its original decision. The court held, inter alia, that Geisinger offered no argument in its Supplemental Brief that the court had not already considered in reaching the decision set forth in its original opinion. Accordingly, the court reafirmed its original decision.

LEGAL COMMENTARY: The court observed that parties are unlikely, and understandably so, to ask for reconsideration of what appears to be controlling precedent. Indeed, where parties are faced with precedent that appears unfavorable to their position, they are more likely to attempt to distinguish factually their case from the established precedent. Further, parties before the court generally are focused on the application of precedent to their specific case. In fact, the parties may not be aware of the impact or implication of the same precedent in cases involving different factual or procedural circumstances. Rather, it is the court's function and responsibility to consider the broader picture, including the impact of precedent beyond the facts of an individual case, and the interplay between established precedent in varying areas of the law. Editor's Note: The court, with the best of intentions, appears to lead us to believe that it is not too difficult to get a court to depart from the age-old standard of following precedent. Lest any be misled down the primrose path, it is, in fact, extremely difficult to induce any court not to follow precedent. It is one of the underpinnings of law that courts follow precedent. The doctrine, otherwise known as stare decisis, is at the very root of our system of justice. Are there precedents that should not be followed? Absolutely! However, the courts have always been extremely reluctant to abandon the doctrine of stare decisis. Is the net result of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania's willingness to abandon precedent a good one under the facts and circumstances of the case before it? Absolutely! Your Editor has long been of the opinion that nurses should be allowed to testify as to what occurs during various procedures and give their opinions as to whether or not, appropriate procedures were or were not followed. The issue should be as to the weight to be given the testimony. For example: Shouldn't a veteran O/B nurse, who has participated in thousands of deliveries be able to give an opinion contrary to a inexperienced OB/GYN?
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Title Annotation:Nursing Law Case of the Month
Publication:Nursing Law's Regan Report
Geographic Code:1U2PA
Date:Nov 1, 2010
Words:813
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