In personal injury and wrongful death cases, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving medical causation, which almost universally requires testimony from a competent expert. Some plaintiffs offer testimony from forensic pathologists—also known as medical examiners, or physicians specializing in postmortem cause-of-death determinations—to prove causation. These forensic pathologists (or the parties proffering their testimony) may push evidentiary boundaries with respect to opinions corollary to their cause of death determinations. While some courts have allowed juries to hear these questionable corollary opinions, relying on cross examination to level the playing field, others have excluded such testimony on the basis of insufficient qualifications or lack of reliable methodology. Recently, the Southern District of Georgia excluded a forensic pathologist’s opinions on both grounds in a wrongful death action. Although not a product liability case, the court’s well-reasoned holding is sure to affect product cases going forward.
In Griffin v. Coffee County et al., 2022 WL 2045650 (S.D. Ga. June 7, 2022), a man in custody at a county jail in Georgia died from a methamphetamine overdose. His estate brought claims for deprivation of rights and medical malpractice against the jail, the hospital, and various individuals associated with those entities. In support of its claims, the estate proffered testimony from a forensic pathologist who offered opinions about medical treatment.