On Thursday a 4-3 majority in the Mississippi Supreme Court issued a doozy of an opinion in Martin v. St. Dominic Hospital.

The case resulted from a 2005 slip and fall by a St. D physical therapy patient. The Plaintiff fell on a newly waxed floor. She had a grand total of $13,500 in medical bills. Now retired Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Swan Yerger directed a verdict for St. D, apparently concluding that expert medical testimony is required in every personal injury case.

Who could have envisioned where the majority was headed when it began the third paragraph with the following?

In any event, it is undisputed that Martin fell to her knees and suffered some swelling as a result of her fall. 

Where the majority was headed was a reversal of last year’s 6-3 Court of Appeals decision reversing the trial court because:

The record is void of any assertion from any medical expert that Martin’s injuries were related to her fall at [St. D] or were an aggravation of a preexisting condition.

To be fair, the Plaintiff was claiming that she suffered meniscus tears as a result of the fall and her surgeon testified that the tears could have been caused by wear and tear of the aging process or the fall.

I get that Plaintiff needed an expert opinion to recover for the meniscus tear and surgery to repair it. But as Justice Lamar pointed out in the dissent:

This is not a case of medical malpractice but a slip and fall….the evidence is uncontradicted that Martin landed on both of her knees and that they immediately began to swell, necessitating utilization of ice packs, an overnight stay in the hospital, and pain medications.

Justice Pierce wrote the majority opinion joined by Chief Justice Waller and Justices Carlson and Randolph. Justices Dickinson and Kitchens joined Justice Lamar’s dissent. Justices Chandler and King didn’t participate.

My Take:

The majority cited the standard of review that the evidence must be considered in the light most favorable to the non-movant on a motion for directed verdict; then threw the standard out the window.

It also seems like every day the Court falls more and more in love with the requirement for doctor expert testimony. Here, it was undisputed that the Plaintiff suffered some injury–perhaps small–as a result of the fall. But the Court is apparently requiring expert testimony to back up even undisputed injuries in garden variety personal injury cases. Pretty soon, the Court may require every personal injury case to be supported by a doctor eye witness.  

The vast majority (perhaps all) of all other Mississippi trial court judges (state and federal) would have denied the motion for directed verdict and let the jury decide the case. Even in Hinds County, juries usually find for the defendant in slip and fall cases. Slip and fall cases are like medical malpractice cases–very hard for the plaintiff to win regardless of the jurisdiction.   

And when the jury does find for the plaintiff, the verdict is typically modest–like in most  fender-bender trials. 

If there had been a defense verdict, the expert testimony issue would have been a moot point. If there was a small plaintiff verdict, St. D would have been unlikely to appeal. If the jury did anything crazy, Judge Yerger could have cleaned it up on post-trial motions. 

It’s hard to require a plaintiff with $13,500 in meds to have a doctor-expert to get a case to the jury. The economics of the case just don’t work. What the Court is really saying is don’t file cases with low meds.