A patient who claims that her medical provider touched her inappropriately during an exam lost her medical malpractice suit because she didn’t have an expert witness to testify about the appropriate standard of care.
The Alleged Assault and Battery
In September 2016, Erica Vipond had a medical appointment with Lance Beebout, a physician’s assistant with Heartland Orthopedics Specialists. Vipond had been experiencing knee pain, shooting pain in her back and legs, and numbness and tingling.
Vipond claims that during the examination, Beebout instructed her to remove all of her clothing from the waist up, including her bra, to examine her for scoliosis. Vipond claims that Beebout did not leave the room while she undressed and that he instructed her to bend over and straighten her back several times, while her clothes were removed. After she was fully clothed and on the exam table, Vipond claims that Beebout examined her spine and lower body. Allegedly, the exam included Beebout touching Vipond on the front of her pelvic bone and on the inside of her leg near her pelvic area.
Minnesota District Court
Vipond sued Beebout in Douglas County District Court, alleging that Beebout had committed tortious assault and battery against her during the examination.
Vipond submitted an affidavit from expert witness Mark R. Halstrom, M.D. The affidavit stated that Dr. Halstrom had read the complaint, that he was “familiar with the standard of care” for such situations, and that Beebout had “deviated from the applicable standard of care and by that action caused injury to Vipond.”
Beebout filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the affidavit did not meet the specificity requirements of Minn. Stat. § 145.682. The district court agreed and dismissed Vipond’s claims.
Minnesota Court of Appeals
Vipond appealed. On appeal, the Minnesota Court of Appeals noted that Minn. Stat. § 145.682 requires an expert witness affidavit to “contain specific details of the plaintiff’s claims, including (1) identification of any experts expected to testify, (2) ‘the facts and opinions to which the expert is expected to testify,’ and (3) ‘a summary of the grounds of each opinion.’”
Vipond argued that no expert testimony was required at trial to make a finding of malpractice because her claims fell “within the general knowledge or experience of laypersons” or that Dr. Halstrom’s affidavit was sufficient. The court disagreed.
The court ruled that an expert affidavit was necessary because all of the alleged conduct occurred during a medical examination and an average layperson would not be equipped to know whether this examination fell outside the standard of care. The court also ruled that Dr. Halstrom’s affidavit was insufficient to satisfy the disclosure requirements of Minn. Stat. § 145.682 because he failed to state what the applicable standard of care is or how it was violated. He also failed to identify any facts that he used to formulate his opinion, aside from referencing that he read the complaint.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of Vipond’s complaint.