Building a case for the courtroom requires a Carolina personal injury or wrongful death attorney with the knowledge, experience and resources necessary to win adequate compensation for victims and families.
When one of those ingredients is missing, the at-fault or negligent party too often prevails.
The recent South Carolina Supreme Court ruling in Graves v. CAS Medical Systems highlights what can happen if your expert witnesses are unprepared or unqualified.
India Graves was one of triplets born prematurely. After six weeks in the hospital, all three girls were sent home with their parents and a CAS monitor to alert parents to any breathing or cardiac issues during the night. The equipment was also outfitted by CAS with a microphone system that tracked whether or not the system's alarm sounded.
On the night of April 11, India was attached to the monitor when she was put in her bassinet about 2 a.m. When mom returned at 4 a.m., she found her sisters were fine but India was unresponsive. An autopsy reported the cause of death as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
The Graves filed a suit citing negligence, breach of duty and strict liability due to a design defect involving the computer code. However, the circuit court granted summary judgment to CAS after granting a motion to exclude all four of Graves' expert witnesses.
While three software engineers were prepared to testify that a glitch in computer code was likely responsible, the court noted none of the three had spent significant time with one of the monitors. And all three agreed a hardware defect was not to blame. The fourth expert in the Graves' case contended the infant likely could have been saved with timely medical attention. However, that witness was not an expert in SIDs.
We can only speak in generalities because we do not know the specifics of the efforts to prepare this case for the courtroom. However, sometimes a firm lacks the resources to hire the leading experts, or to pay them to spend time examining a machine for defects. Sometimes just paying for testimony stretches a firm's resources. In other cases, a firm may accept a case hoping to get a settlement.
And in still other cases a law firm may divide its attention among several types of law, including wrongful death, criminal defense and divorce. Often, these firms do not have the working relationships and professional contacts necessary to build a strong case using expert witnesses.
The court attempts to vett expert testimony, and producing witnesses who lack the knowledge or experience to qualify as experts can be disastrous. As can testimony of questionable scientific validity or value.
In this case, CAS argued the backup system recorded the alarm sounding during more than 30 documented respiratory or cardiac episodes suffered by India in the early morning hours. And it moved to exclude all witnesses as failing to meet the legal requirements to give scientific testimony under State v. Council, 335 S.C. 1, 515 S.E.2d 508 (1999). The Graves filed a Rule 59(e), SCRCP motion, arguing for a chance to proceed based on circumstantial evidence even without the expert testimony. The court denied the motion and granted summary judgment on behalf of CAS.
Summary judgement is a judgment against one party issued by the court without a full trial, frequently because there are no material factual issues left for a jury to decide. In other words, the plaintiff has failed to prove his case.
As it happens, the court also reports the appeal was improperly filed, which caused the Graves to forfeit several appeal issues the court might have considered.
Choosing a law firm carefully in the aftermath of serious or fatal injury is critical when it comes to securing the damages you and your family deserve as you work toward recovery.