A recent Rhode Island Supreme Court decision serves as an important reminder of the need to engage essential expert witnesses early in a case and, at a minimum, before discovery responses are due.
In Laplante v. Rhode Island Hospital, 110 A.3d 261 (R.I. 2015), a medical malpractice case, the Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant when the plaintiff failed to come forth with expert testimony establishing the applicable standard of care and establishing any causal link between the defendants’ alleged breach of the standard of care and the plaintiff’s injuries.
It is well settled that a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case must come forth with “‘expert testimony . . . to establish deviation from the standard of care when the lack of care is not so evident as to be obvious to a lay person.’” Id. at 265 (quoting Malinou v. Miriam Hospital, 24 A.3d 497, 509 (R.I. 2011)).
Notwithstanding this requirement, in Laplante, the plaintiff repeatedly failed to identify in discovery any expert witness, let alone an expert that would provide testimony to establish deviation from the standard of case. Id. Ultimately, the defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff could not carry his burden of proof without the benefit of expert testimony. Id.at 263. The hearing justice agreed, finding that, without expert testimony, a jury would be unable to determine whether defendants proximately caused plaintiff’s injuries. Id. Accordingly, the hearing justice granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. Id. at 263-64.
On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the hearing justice’s grant of summary judgment, holding that the hearing justice correctly found that the plaintiff could not establish any triable issues of material fact without expert testimony. Id. at 265.
While the issue Laplante arose in the context of a medical malpractice case, the Court’s holding is equally applicable to any other case in which expert testimony is necessary to establish an element of a claim.