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High Court Overturns Lower Court Ruling in Wrongful Death Suit

By March 16, 2011July 10th, 2019Uncategorized

The Missouri Supreme Court has ruled that a psychiatrist’s testimony is admissible in a wrongful death case against an orthopedic surgeon, and that the lower level courts should not have dismissed the evidence from consideration.

Gerald Kivland filed a medical liability lawsuit in 2005, naming Robert Gaines and the Colombia Orthopaedic Group LLP as defendants. The suit alleged that Dr. Gaines performed spinal surgery on Kivland that resulted in chronic pain and paralysis from the waist down. In 2006, Kivland committed suicide, and his family chose to continue the lawsuit, amending the charges from medical liability to wrongful death due to a decreased quality of life.

Gaines has acknowledged responsibility for the paralysis, but has flatly denied any responsibility for Kivland’s death.

Psychiatrist Michael Jarvis gave a deposition during discovery that Kivland’s death was not a voluntary act, but a desperate involuntary response to the pain and suffering caused by the badly-handled surgery.

Claiming that Kivland’s suicide was an independent act for which Gaines could not be responsible, Gaines’ attorneys moved that the judge disqualify the witness and dismiss the case. Gary Oxenhandler, a Boone County Circuit Judge, agreed and did so.

However, in a unanimous decision, the state supreme court overturned the ruling early last month.

“Whether [the witness’s] opinion is to be believed or accepted is for the jury, not the court” to decide, the high court said. “It does not matter if the circuit court disagrees with the expert’s opinion and believes suicide was the decedent’s voluntary decision. This is not a sufficient reason to exclude the testimony.”

In short, this means that the lawsuit can resume for a second time at the county court level. Attorneys for Dr. Gaines had not responded to inquiries as of press time, but the Kivland family indicated their desire to continue moving the case forward.