Olmsted County District Court File No. C2-02-000807
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge; Klaphake, Judge; and
I. Physicians testifying as expert witnesses in a personal-injury action, because of their training and experience, may rely on a patient's statement made about the patient's symptoms to formulate opinions concerning causation.
II. Where two theories of causation are reasonably plausible in a personal-injury action, a court may not circumvent the jury's authority to determine which theory is more probable by granting summary judgment.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Toussaint, Chief Judge
On appeal in this personal-injury case, appellants Donna Ingram and James Ingram argue that the district court erred in determining that their expert testimony was not based on adequate factual foundation, and in granting summary judgment because appellants failed to show their theory of causation was more probable than that of respondents. Because a physician's expert opinion may be reasonably based on information from multiple sources, including statements made to the physician by a patient, and because causation is an issue best suited for a jury, we reverse and remand.
The present action arose out of a low-speed accident that occurred in Rochester on January 29, 1996, between vehicles driven by respondent-defendant Selmer Syverson and appellant-plaintiff James Ingram. Syverson, driving a pickup truck owned by his employer, respondent-defendant Expertise Lawn Care (Expertise), made a left turn as the Ingrams' van approached from the opposite direction. The icy conditions that afternoon made stopping difficult, and the Ingrams' van struck the passenger-side edge of the snowplow mounted on Syverson's turning vehicle.
Appellant-plaintiff Donna Ingram, who had been diagnosed six days earlier with degenerative disc disease in her back (and who had been receiving back-pain treatment at the Mayo Clinic for three years), was a passenger in the vehicle driven by her husband. She asserts that, upon impact, she immediately felt a sharp pain in her low back. She now claims that the accident prompted, or at least accelerated, the need for spine-fusion surgery in July 1997.
The Ingrams filed suit against both Syverson and Expertise, alleging that Syverson's negligence caused both the accident and Donna Ingram's deteriorated back condition. To support their claims, the Ingrams solicited the testimony of Dr. R. A. Klassen, Donna Ingram's treating surgeon, who testified that her condition worsened after the collision, and that her spine-fusion surgery "was related to the increasing pain that she had following the accident."
On cross-examination, however, Dr. Klassen admitted that he was unable to causally connect Donna Ingram's symptoms to the accident solely from his own findings and examination, and relied upon her statements that her pain resulted from the accident. Further, Dr. Klassen conceded that Donna Ingram's injuries might have resulted from the natural progression of her degenerative back disease, rather than from the accident.
Respondents moved for summary judgment, claiming that the Ingrams failed to establish that Syverson's alleged breach of duty caused Donna Ingram's back problems. They asserted that Dr. Klassen's testimony was based solely on Donna Ingram's own statements concerning the relationship of the accident to her pain, and that none of Dr. ...