An appeals court recently issued an opinion in medical malpractice cross-appeal involving negligent medical treatment of a passenger on a Florida cruise ship. According to the court’s opinion, a cruise ship passenger awoke with stomach pains on the third day of his trip. After vomiting during dinner, the passenger went to the ship’s medical center. The doctors administered a blood test, x-ray and monitored his heart. They concluded that the passenger was experiencing a heart attack and admitted him to the cruise liner’s intensive care unit. The onboard physicians determined that administering clot-busting medication would be too risky, so they monitored him before porting in Florida, where an ambulance took him to a hospital. The passenger eventually obtained a pacemaker and filed a lawsuit against the cruise liner, alleging medical negligence.
A jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded him $2,000,000; however, a district court reduced the damages to $1,700,000. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the court erred in excluding expert testimony regarding evidence of the passenger’s loss of earning capacity. The damages expert testified to the plaintiff’s loss of earnings and prepared three models to support his testimony. In response, the defendants argued that the expert was not a vocational expert, and his analysis was based on the plaintiff’s subjective descriptions.
Amongst several issues, the appeals court analyzed whether the lower court erred in excluding the expert’s testimony and granting the defendant’s motion for a directed verdict on the loss of earning capacity. The law allows medical malpractice victims to recover damages against an at-fault party for impaired earning capacity. The compensation is designed to address reductions in a victim’s income stream because of the defendant’s negligence. The judge or jury determines the value of the loss by estimating the loss of work because of the injury, calculating the lost income, adding the total damage, and subtracting that amount to its present value. Moreover, federal rules of evidence require that experts meet specific prerequisites for their testimony to be admissible.