Evidentiary Standard in Medical Malpractice Case Clarified by Hawaii Supreme Court

John Fisher
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Stopping Medical Injustice

Medical malpractice cases can be nuanced and it is important that parties pay attention to all the requirements they need to meet including all the evidentiary standards required by the court.  An example of this is a recent medical malpractice case in the Hawaii Supreme Court has clarified the evidentiary standard for defendants to be granted summary judgment.  In this case, the plaintiff, Rick Ralston, sued his dentist, Dr. Errol Y.W. Yim.  Ralston alleged that Yim provided him with negligent orthodontic care.


Yim moved for summary judgment.  The circuit court order that Ralston be given a continuance so that he would have time to submit an expert’s affidavit that established that Yim failed to meet the standard of care.  An unauthenticated expert report stating that Yim did not meet the standard of care was submitted by Ralston’s counsel prior to the next hearing.  The rules require that an authenticated expert affidavit and Yim asserted that since Ralston failed to provide the authenticated affidavit that summary judgment should be granted. 


Prior to the hearting Ralston’s counsel attempted to authenticate the affidavit by submitting a faxed copy.  Yim argued at the hearing that the faxed affidavit was inadmissible because it was a faxed copy and it was untimely and therefore should be stricken.  The circuit court agreed that it should be stricken because Ralston was given enough time to correct the evidentiary issues.  Summary judgment was granted in Yim’s favor.


The Intermediate Court reversed this decision stating that Yim failed to satisfy his initial burden as the party moving for summary judgment.  The Court also ruled that “adequate time” was not given to Ralston to conduct discovery.


The defendant then appealed to the Supreme Court of Hawaii.  The question the Supreme Court examined was whether it was an error to excuse Ralston’s failure to move for a continuance and failure to authenticate the exhibits and require Yim to establish affirmative evidence establishing the standard of care and to prove that the standard was not violated.  In Hawaii when a party movies for summary judgment they must satisfy his or her initial burden by either providing admissible evidence to show there was no insure of material fact or show that the non-moving party cannot meet their burden of proof at trial.  Generally the moving party cannot support its burden of production only by pointing to the non-moving party’s lack of evidence when discovery is not finished. 


The Supreme Court concluded that the circuit court erred when it granted summary judgment to Yim because he did not meet his initial burden of production.  The case was then returned to the circuit court where there will be proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court’s opinion.


Both parties in medical malpractice cases need to be sure that they meet all their deadlines, meet their burden of proof, and all the standards for all the documentation they need to proceed with their case.  If they do not they risk having the court rule against them before the case has a chance to go to trial.


But what do you think?  I would love to hear from you!  Leave a comment or I also welcome your phone call on my toll-free cell at 1-866-889-6882 or you can drop me an e-mail at [email protected] .  You are always welcome to request my FREE book, The Seven Deadly Mistakes of Malpractice Victims, at the home page of my website at www.protectingpatientrights.com

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