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Windhurst v. Ariz. Dep’t of Corr - 11/2/2021

Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two holds that medical expert testimony regarding institutional standards of care are not subject to A.R.S. § 12-2604’s stricter requirements for that of individual providers.

An incarcerated man housed in the prison’s infimary died in the hospital after suffering complications associated with diabetes.  His surviving spouse sued the Department for wrongful death alleging medical negligence.  The trial court granted summary judgment for the Department citing inadequate medical expert testimony regarding the applicable standards of care and causation.  Following an unsuccessful motion for reconsideration, the spouse appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by applying a heightened standard to her medical expert’s opinions.

The Court of Appeals vacated and remanded.  It held that A.R.S. § 12-2604’s stricter requirements for medical experts testifying to the standards of care for medical professionals do not apply to medical negligence claims against healthcare institutions, which are bound by a standard of care independent from that of the providers they employ.  An expert testifying about an institutional standard of care thus need only be “licensed as a health professional in this state or another state,” § 12-2604(A), and have the “specialized knowledge” required by Ariz. R. Evid. 702.  The trial court erred in essentially disqualifying the spouse’s expert by applying the stricter standard applicable to those who testify to the standard of care for individual providers.  Because healthcare institutions have an independent standard of care, such an expert is only required to produce evidence that the institution itself fell below that standard.

Judge Vasquez authored the opinion; Judge Brearcliffe and Judge Eckerstrom joined.

Posted by: Matthew Stanford

Posted On: 2/7/2022