Alabama Supreme Court holds that wound care nurse was not qualified to testify as to the standard of care for overall post-op care of cardiac patient.

Recently, in Springhill Hospitals, Inc. v. Critopoulos, ___ So. 2d ___ 2011 WL 5607816 (Ala. Nov. 18, 2011), the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s ruling that a plaintiff’s expert witness, a registered nurse, was qualified to testify as to the standard of care in the plaintiff’s medical malpractice claim.  The witness testified that nurses who had cared for the plaintiff after his bypass surgery breached the standard of care by allegedly failing to turn and reposition the plaintiff every two hours during his recovery.  The trial court denied the defendants’ motion to exclude the nurse’s testimony, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff.

On appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court held that the nurse was not a “similarly situated healthcare provider,” which would have qualified her to testify regarding the care of plaintiff while he was in the cardiac-recovery and cardiac-intervention units.  As a wound-care nurse, the witness had some experience performing clinical services typically performed by cardiac-recovery nurses, such as checking vital signs and blood pressure, but she had never provided direct, hands-on care as a staff nurse to patients who were in immediate post-recovery in the cardiac-recovery unit.  On cross-examination, the nurse admitted that she did not have the experience necessary to monitor various aspects of the plaintiff’s post-surgical recovery, such as cardiac output, cardiac index, systemic vascular resistance, and central venous pressure.  She also admitted that she was not qualified to provide overall care to a patient in post-operative cardiac recovery.

In reaching its conclusion, the Court relied on Dempsey v. Phelps, 700 So. 2d 1340 (Ala. 1997), which held that a witness experienced in orthopedics was not qualified to testify regarding the vascular complications and infection a patient had experienced after his orthopedic surgery.

Because the only evidence of breach of the standard of care offered by the plaintiff in Critopoulos was the nurse’s testimony, the Court not only reversed the trial court’s ruling that the referenced testimony was admissible but also remanded the case for entry of a judgment as a matter of law in favor of the defendants.