The Eleventh Circuit has sent a suit back to court that alleges a surgical tool made by Intuitive Surgical Inc. caused internal burns during a woman’s hysterectomy, saying the district court was wrong to disqualify the woman’s expert on the basis of him having never used the tool.
In a published opinion filed Thursday, the panel reversed a summary judgment against Tamanchia Moore, saying the district court wrongly conflated two distinct prongs of evaluation for an expert witness by finding the expert unqualified based on criteria that instead should have been considered for his opinion’s reliability.
According to the opinion, while Dr. Michael Hall hadn’t used the specific tool at issue, he is a board-certified OB-GYN who’s performed more than 4,000 hysterectomies and served on committees and panels reviewing complications in gynecological procedures. This, plus his review of the equipment and literature provided by Intuitive, qualifies him to opine on the cause of Moore’s injuries
According to the suit, Moore underwent a hysterectomy in March 2013, in which the surgeon used a robotic tool made by Intuitive. After the surgery, she suffered severe abdominal pain and inability to urinate, then learned she’d suffered internal burns during the procedure. She sued Intuitive, who manufactured the tool, which was recalled a few months after her procedure.
The trial court disqualified Hall, Moore’s only causation witness, finding that he was not qualified on the basis that he could not adequately describe the differences between instruments used in robotic and traditional surgery, the differences in where the tools are inserted, and where the instruments are during operations.
But even if those points were correct, they would speak not to Hall’s qualifications but to the reliability of his testimony, which is a prong the trial court didn’t reach.
Hall is considered qualified if he has “knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education” in the relevant topic, the panel wrote, adding Hall is “five for five.”
While Intuitive argued that the circuit court should affirm the summary judgment by addressing the reliability of Hall’s testimony, the panel declined, saying it’s a fact-laden endeavor that should not be conducted with an undeveloped record. Instead, the trial court should make the determination, the panel wrote, remanding the case to the court while directing it be assigned to a different judge.