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Limitations of Lay Witnesses and Expert Testimony in Indiana

Updated February 26, 2019 | By Wilson Kehoe Winingham staff

A recent Indiana Supreme Court opinion has clarified the role of an injured party’s ability to express opinions about their injury and what a defense medical expert can say about the medical treatment received in an Indiana personal injury case.

Case Details

In Sibbing v. Cave, 2010 WL 744928 (Ind.), the plaintiff, Mrs. Cave, brought suit after she was injured in a motor vehicle collision with the defendant, Mr. Sibbing. Mr. Sibbing admitted liability but argued that Mrs. Cave’s injuries were not caused by the crash. The trial court entered judgment for the plaintiff. The defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by allowing Mrs. Cave to give her own opinion on the cause of her pain. Mr. Sibbing also argued that the trial court made a mistake by excluding his hired medical expert to testify that the plaintiff didn’t really need all the medical treatment she received.

Indiana Supreme Court Ruling

The Indiana Supreme Court found that Mrs. Cave’s own opinion as to the cause of her pain qualified as permissible testimony by a lay witness pursuant to Indiana Rule of Evidence 701. Upon direct examination, Mrs. Cave was asked what she believed was causing her pain. She replied that her lower back pain was due to a bulging disk. The defendant objected under Indiana Rule of Evidence 803(4) and 702. The court, however, found that Mrs. Cave could describe what she believed to be causing her pain, even if it her description did not include aspects of medical diagnosis.

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled that the jury’s award of $71,675 to Mrs. Cave was proper, and thus, the verdict was affirmed.

Medical Testimony

The Court also addressed the defendant’s attempt to have their hired doctor testify that not all of Mrs. Cave’s treatment was necessary. Other Indiana courts had decided that a doctor’s poor choice of treatment shouldn’t be held against an injured plaintiff. In other words, a plaintiff’s recovery of medical expenses shouldn’t be reduced just because they received arguably unnecessary treatment.

The Sibbing court affirmed this idea and concluded that the defendant could not use their medical expert to say that Mrs. Cave’s doctors used poor medical judgment in treating her injury. However, a defense medical expert can still claim the injured plaintiff had a preexisting condition that had nothing to do with the injury caused by the defendant. In the case where a plaintiff has a prior unrelated injury, the expenses for the treatment of that injury would not be recoverable at trial.

Contact a Personal Injury Attorney Today

If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of another person’s negligence, you are urged to contact the Indianapolis Personal Injury Attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The lawyers at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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