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Preston v. Amadei

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

August 27, 2015

BLAIR PRESTON, CHRISTY PRESTON, and MELISSA SANSING, all natural children of JEAN PRESTON, Deceased, Plaintiffs/Appellants/Cross-Appellees,
v.
MICHAEL AMADEI, M.D., Defendant/Appellee/Cross-Appellant

Appeal from the Superior Court in Yavapai County. No. P1300CV201100726. The Honorable Patricia A. Trebesch, Judge.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Roush, McCracken & Guerrero, LLP, Phoenix, By Peter A. Guerrero, Counsel for Plaintiffs/Appellants/Cross-Appellees.

Campbell, Yost, Clare & Norell, P.C., Phoenix, By Stephen C. Yost, Kenneth W. McCain, Counsel for Defendant/Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

Judge Michael J. Brown delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Maurice Portley and Judge John C. Gemmill joined.

OPINION

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Michael J. Brown, Judge:

[¶1] Blair Preston, Christy Preston, and Melissa Sansing (" Plaintiffs" ) appeal the trial court's summary judgment in favor of Michael Amadei, M.D., on their medical malpractice claim. Specifically, they argue the court erred in finding they failed to disclose a qualified standard of care expert as required under Arizona Revised Statutes (" A.R.S." ) section 12-2604 and, even if their expert was not qualified, the court erred by denying their request for time to disclose a new expert. Dr. Amadei cross-appeals the court's denial of the portion of his motion for summary judgment addressing causation. He argues Plaintiffs' claim is speculative and not supported by sufficient facts and data as required by applicable evidentiary requirements governing expert testimony. For reasons that follow, we conclude Plaintiffs' standard of care expert was not statutorily qualified; however, Plaintiffs should have

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been given the opportunity to substitute an expert. On Dr. Amadei's cross-appeal, because we hold that an expert's opinion in a medical malpractice case may be focused on the expert's experience in practicing medicine, we affirm the court's ruling denying Dr. Amadei's motion on this basis.

BACKGROUND

[¶2] In June 2009, Jean Preston (" Ms. Preston" ) was involved in a motor vehicle accident. She sustained a fractured femur and was later admitted to Kachina Point Health Care and Rehabilitation Center (" Kachina" ) for rehabilitation services. At the time of her admission, Ms. Preston had longstanding cardiac issues.

[¶3] On August 11, Ms. Preston experienced severe chest pain, left-hand numbness, and uncontrolled hypertension, prompting the Kachina nursing staff to ask Dr. Amadei, the facility's medical director and primary care doctor, to evaluate her. After conducting an examination, Dr. Amadei ordered the treating nurse to administer nitroglycerin and Ms. Preston's pain and other symptoms soon abated. Notwithstanding her symptom relief, Ms. Preston died at Kachina several hours later. Medical examiner Mark A. Fischione, M.D., who conducted the subsequent autopsy, determined she died from complications of congestive heart failure.

[¶4] Plaintiffs sued Dr. Amadei in April 2011, alleging he was negligent in providing medical care to their mother and that such negligence caused her death.[1] Dr. Amadei is board-certified in internal medicine. David Lapan, M.D., Plaintiffs' standard of care expert, is board-certified in internal medicine and also in cardiology.

[¶5] In June 2013, after discovery closed, Dr. Amadei sought summary judgment on the following grounds: (1) Dr. Lapan was not qualified as a standard of care expert under A.R.S. § 12-2604 because he practices in the area of cardiology, and the relevant specialty as it relates to Dr. Amadei's conduct is internal medicine; (2) Plaintiffs could not establish that any act or omission by Dr. Amadei proximately caused Ms. Preston's death; and (3) the testimony of Plaintiffs' disclosed standard of care expert was inadmissible pursuant to Arizona Rule of Evidence 702. Dr. Amadei also filed a motion in limine requesting that the court preclude Plaintiffs from introducing evidence or arguing that Dr. Amadei's conduct fell below the standard of care or breached his contract in fulfilling his role as Kachina's medical director. Additionally, Dr. Amadei filed a motion for sanctions, contending Plaintiffs' disclosures regarding the expected testimony of the medical examiner, Dr. Fischione, were false and misleading.

[¶6] The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Dr. Amadei, finding that the relevant specialty for evaluating Dr. Amadei's care and treatment is internal medicine, and that Dr. Lapan is a cardiologist who " does not currently practice internal medicine." The court explained that " [i]n the year preceding the events that gave rise to this action, [Dr. Lapan] did not spend a majority of his time practicing or teaching in the specialty of internal medicine." The court thus determined that Dr. Lapan failed to meet the statutory qualifications to be able to offer standard of care testimony. The court also granted Dr. Amadei's motion in limine as well as the request for sanctions, concluding Plaintiffs " should have known" that the content of their Dr. Fischione disclosure " was false and misleading." Although the court was " unable to conclude [Plaintiffs] knew the disclosure was false and misleading," the court found Plaintiffs were under a " duty to ensure the disclosure was accurate before disseminating the information," and expressly noted that Plaintiffs failed to inquire as to whether Dr. Fischione agreed with the opinions as set forth in the disclosure until " after the disclosure was made rather than before." (Emphasis in original.) The court therefore determined Plaintiffs bore " the consequences of an erroneous disclosure" and awarded Dr. Amadei his reasonable attorneys' fees and costs " incurred by

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the false and misleading disclosure," totaling $3,497.50.

[¶7] Plaintiffs filed a motion to substitute a new standard of care expert and requested a trial continuance. They also filed a motion for new trial, requesting that the court vacate its entry of summary judgment in favor of Dr. Amadei. The court denied the motion to substitute, reasoning that Plaintiffs made no attempt to cure the defect until after oral argument was held on Dr. Amadei's motion for summary judgment. The court also denied the motion for new trial. Plaintiffs timely appealed and Dr. Amadei cross-appealed the denial of his motion for summary judgment on causation.

DISCUSSION

A. Disqualification of Expert Witness

[¶8] Plaintiffs argue the trial court erred by disqualifying their standard of care expert pursuant to A.R.S. § 12-2604 and granting summary judgment in favor of Dr. Amadei on that basis. Specifically, Plaintiffs assert Dr. Lapan " is more qualified" than Dr. Amadei to treat cardiac-related chest pain, as experienced by Ms. Preston, and it would therefore " be absurd" to uphold the court's ruling that " a physician more competent, more experienced and more trained in the relevant medical issue . . . is disqualified from testifying[.]"

[¶9] Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Ariz. R. Civ. P. 56(a). We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and determine de novo whether there are genuine issues of material fact and whether the trial court erred in applying the law. Awsienko v. Cohen, 227 Ariz. 256, 258, ¶ 7, 257 P.3d 175 (App. 2011). We generally review a trial court's determinations on expert qualifications for an abuse of discretion, but review issues of statutory interpretation de novo. Baker v. Univ. Physicians Healthcare, 231 Ariz. ...


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