Appeal from the District Court of the Third Judicial District, State of Idaho, Canyon County. Hon. Gregory M. Culet, District Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Burdick, Chief Justice
District court decision denying motion for new trial, affirmed.
This case comes before this Court on appeal from a jury verdict entered in a wrongful death case in favor of Jose Aguilar, Guadalupe Aguilar, Alejandro Aguilar, Lorena Aguilar and Jose Aguilar, Jr. (collectively, "the Aguilars") against Dr. Nathan Coonrod, his employer Primary Health Care Center (Primary Health) and employees of Primary Health (collectively, hereinafter "Dr. Coonrod"). On appeal Dr. Coonrod asserts that the district court abused its discretion in barring him from questioning the Aguilars' expert, Dr. Blaylock, about his opinion as to the professional negligence of Dr. Chai and Dr. Long (two previous defendants who settled or were dismissed prior to trial) in their treatment of Maria Aguilar (Maria), either on cross-examination or during his case in chief. Dr. Coonrod alleges that the district court also abused its discretion in forbidding him to read portions of Dr. Blaylock's deposition into the record. Finally, Dr. Coonrod alleges that the district court erred in interpreting the statutory cap on non-economic damages, I.C. § 6-1603, as applying to each of the Aguilars individually instead of collectively. We affirm.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
On April 23, 2003, Maria saw Dr. Atup-Leavitt at Primary Health due to shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness, and was diagnosed with anemia. On April 26, 2003, Maria was seen by Dr. Blahd at the West Valley Medical Center emergency room, and was again discharged with a diagnosis of anemia. Dr. Coonrod first examined Maria on April 28, 2003, at Primary Health, where she reported shortness of breath and a rapid pulse. Between April 28 and Maria's death on June 4, 2003, Maria saw Dr. Coonrod an additional six times, the last time was on the morning of the day she died. During this time, Maria was also seen by: Dr. Gibson (a gastroenterologist) twice; Dr. Long (a doctor at Mercy Medical Center's emergency room); Dr. Chai (a cardiologist at Mercy Medical Center); Dr. Thomas (a doctor at Mercy Medical Center's emergency room); Dr. Field (a cardiologist at Mercy Medical Center); and Dr. Newman (a doctor in West Valley Medical Center's emergency room). Maria was determined to have died of a pulmonary embolus; a clot had formed at the arch of her pulmonary artery, blocking the flow of blood from the right chamber of her heart into her lungs.
On June 2, 2005, the Aguilars filed suit against Drs. Chai, Newman, Long, Coonrod and Atup-Leavitt, along with their employers, alleging that the defendants breached the relevant standards of medical care in failing to diagnose Maria's condition and that this negligence resulted in her death. On December 18, 2006, the Aguilars filed an amended complaint. Dr. Atup-Leavitt, Mercy Medical Center and West Valley Medical Center were dismissed relatively early in the litigation process. Dr. Chai was dismissed from the case on June 2, 2009. Dr. Long settled with the Aguilars, and was dismissed from the case on June 15, 2009. When trial began the only remaining defendants were Dr. Newman, Dr. Coonrod and Primary Health.
On December 29, 2006, Dr. Coonrod filed an answer to the Aguilars' amended complaint raising, inter alia, the affirmative defense of comparative negligence. On January 15, 2008, the Aguilars made their first expert witness disclosure, disclosing, amongst others, Dr. Blaylock, and noting that he was expected to testify that Dr. Long, Dr. Chai, Dr. Coonrod and Dr. Newman violated the standard of care for their respective practice areas and that these violations were a substantial factor in Maria's death. Through numerous supplementations of their expert witness disclosures, the Aguilars consistently indicated that Dr. Blaylock was expected to testify that these four doctors were negligent.
On February 27, 2009, the Aguilars made a motion in limine seeking, inter alia, to preclude Dr. Coonrod from making any reference to any defendant who settled or was dismissed from the case prior to trial. The district court heard argument on that motion on April 22, 2009, and Dr. Coonrod argued that he should be permitted to question Dr. Blaylock regarding his previously disclosed opinions as to the negligence of any doctor who was dismissed or settled prior to trial. At that time the district court specifically considered whether Dr. Coonrod could question Dr. Blaylock to establish negligence on the part of Dr. Long. The court declined to make a ruling at that time, inviting further submission of authority by both parties. During trial the court again heard argument on this issue, outside the presence of the jury, and ruled that Dr. Coonrod could not call Dr. Blaylock in his case in chief, on the basis that Dr. Coonrod had not adequately disclosed Dr. Blaylock as an expert he intended to call at trial. However, the court declined to make a final determination as to whether Dr. Coonrod could question Dr. Blaylock on cross-examination as to his opinion of the standard of care provided by Dr. Long and Dr. Chai. The court deferred that ruling, finding that it would necessarily depend on what was within the scope of direct examination and what seemed like appropriate impeachment questioning.
The district court allowed Dr. Coonrod to question Dr. Blaylock outside the presence of the jury, on April 29, 2009, to make an offer of proof in the record as to what he would have asked Dr. Blaylock before the jury had he been given the opportunity. This offer of proof was supplemented with additional questioning outside the presence of the jury on the morning of April 30, 2009.
The jury returned a verdict against Dr. Coonrod on May 13, 2009, and a judgment was entered on May 20, 2009. On May 28, 2009, Dr. Coonrod filed a motion for a new trial on the basis that it was an abuse of discretion and/or error in law to bar him from asking Dr. Blaylock his opinion as to the negligence of Dr. Long and Dr. Chai. Dr. Coonrod also argued that it was an abuse of discretion and/or error in law to list each plaintiff individually, rather than collectively, on the jury form for non-economic damages. The jury found that Dr. Newman had not breached the standard of care, and he settled with the Aguilars following the conclusion of trial and was dismissed on June 25, 2009. The district court heard oral argument on Dr. Coonrod's May 28 motion on July 1, 2009, and denied that motion in a memorandum decision entered on August 25, 2009. An amended judgment was entered on September 19, 2009, and Dr. Coonrod filed his notice of appeal with this Court on September 29, 2009.
A. The district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to allow Dr. Coonrod to cross-examine Dr. Blaylock, or present evidence in its case in chief, about Dr. Blaylock's deposition testimony that Dr. Long and Dr. Chai had acted negligently in their treatment of Maria, breaching the standard of care, and that negligent treatment was a substantial factor in Maria's death.
Dr. Coonrod argues that the district court erred in finding that Dr. Coonrod could not cross-examine Dr. Blaylock (the Aguilars' expert witness) about his opinion offered during his deposition that two other doctors, Long and Chai, also breached the standard of care in failing to diagnose Maria, and that five other doctors who had seen Maria during the relevant period had not breached the standard of care. The court likewise forbade Dr. Coonrod from questioning Dr. Blaylock about his deposition testimony during Dr. Coonrod's case in chief. Dr. Coonrod contends that the district court erroneously found that White v. Mock, 140 Idaho 882, 104 P.3d 356 (2004), compelled it to deny this line of questioning on the basis that Dr. Coonrod's expert disclosures were too general.
As this Court stated in White v. Mock:
The Court reviews a trial court's decision admitting or excluding evidence, including the testimony of expert witnesses, under the abuse of discretion standard. The test for determining whether the district court abused its discretion is: (1) whether the court correctly perceived that the issue was one of discretion; (2) whether the court acted within the outer boundaries of its discretion and consistently with the legal standards applicable to the specific choices available to it; and (3) whether it reached its decision by an exercise of reason.
140 Idaho at 888, 104 P.3d at 362 (internal citations omitted). Typically, where the disclosure requirements of I.R.C.P. 26 are not met, an improperly disclosed expert will be excluded from testifying. Id. The decision to grant or deny a motion for a new trial is likewise reviewed by this Court under an abuse of discretion standard. Kuhn v. Coldwell Banker Landmark, Inc., 150 Idaho 240, __, 245 P.3d 992, 999 (2010). Where an incorrect ruling was made regarding evidence, a new trial is only merited if the error affects a party's substantial right. Clark v. Klein, 137 Idaho 154, 156, 45 P.3d 810, 812 (2002).
2. The district court did not abuse its discretion in barring Dr. Coonrod from calling Dr. Blaylock during his case in chief.
i. The district court did not abuse its discretion in barring Dr. Coonrod from calling Dr. Blaylock during his case in chief, based on his finding that Dr. Coonrod had provided inadequate notice of his intent to ...