EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Friday, November 25, 2011

Resident Evil?: Colorado Court of Appeals Finds 1st Year Resident Qualified As "Expert Of Medicine"

Similar to its federal counterpartColorado Rule of Evidence 702 provides that

If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.

So, can a first-year resident be qualified as an "expert of medicine" under Rule 702? According to the recent opinion of the Colorado Court of Appeals, Div. I. in People ex rel. Strodtman, 2011 WL 5084951 (Colo.App. 2001), the answer is "yes."

In Strodtman, Joyce A. Strodtman, appealed a magistrate's order authorizing the Denver Health Medical Center, upon the People's petition, to forcibly administer her antipsychotic medications. The magistrate's order was partially based upon the expert testimony of Dr. O'Flaherty, a first-year resident. In her appeal, Strodtman claimed, inter alia, that the magistrate erred by allowing Dr. O'Flaherty to be qualified as an "expert of medicine." 

According to the Colorado Court of Appeals,Div. I., the People sought to qualify Dr. O'Flaherty as an "expert in medicine" because she had not yet been board certified in psychiatry. Strodtman took issue with this decision, "contend[ing] qualification in the general field of medicine violate[d] CRE 702, and thus her due process rights."

In response, the court found that "[a]s an issue of first impression, we must determine whether CRE 702 permits a physician to testify without a specialty, as 'an expert in medicine.'" The court then found that it does. The court held that

Case law from other jurisdictions indicates the generally prevailing rule is that "otherwise qualified physicians or surgeons are not incompetent to testify as experts merely or necessarily because they are not specialists in the particular branch of their profession involved in the case."...

Supporting the adoption of this rule in Colorado is the broad scope of CRE 702 governing the admissibility of expert testimony. Witnesses may be qualified as experts by virtue of their "knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education."...Under this liberal rule, a court may admit expert testimony if the witness can offer "appreciable" assistance on a subject beyond the understanding of an "untrained layman."...Thus, in a particular case, the certification of a resident physician as a general medical expert may be consistent with this rule.

Additionally, an important safeguard offsets any concerns Strodtman may have regarding this liberal construction of CRE 702. If an expert is qualified, the decision-maker determines the weight and the credibility of his or her testimony.

Thus, the court 

conclude[d] that a physician may be qualified as an "expert in medicine" so long as his or her knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education supports the qualification, and he or she is capable of providing specialized knowledge that will assist the decision-maker in determining the issues.



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