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Georgia Court of Appeals Affirms Exclusion of Expert Opinion

The Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the exclusion of the opinions of an expert under a Daubert analysis because the opinions were not based on sufficient facts or data. Plaintiff was the administrator of the estate and husband of the decedent, who passed away of a drug overdose. The patient’s friend called 911 and a corporate ambulance service responded. Plaintiff sued the ambulance company, alleging failure to respond to the overdose in accordance with policies and procedures. The ambulance company moved to exclude the opinions of Plaintiff’s expert, which the trial court denied. The Court of Appeals reversed.

The facts were that Plaintiff’s friend called 911 to report that Plaintiff was dying and that she needed help. The friend did not report the type of emergency and did not provided the location or address, so it was recorded as “unknown problem.” The dispatcher called back, but got voicemail. The dispatcher then used GPS to triangulate the call and police were sent along with the ambulance, with a paramedic and EMT. 

On arrival, the police told the ambulance to stay back because they did not know the nature of the emergency. The police officer knocked several times and tried to make contact with the people in the house with no luck. They attempted to call with no response. The police decided to cancel the call and leave the scene. The ambulance dispatcher told the ambulance crew that the policy advised “we could cancel” and that the police on the scene gave verbal confirmation of the cancellation. The ambulance crew left the scene based on the police decision. 

Plaintiff identified an expert witness to opine on standard of care for the ambulance crew and negligent hiring and training. The Court of Appeals framed the issue as whether a responding ambulance crew has an independent duty to locate the potentially injured persons after police investigate and tell the ambulance crew they do not need to respond. Plaintiff’s expert opined on this issue, but Defendant claimed the opinion was not the result of reliable facts, data and methods. Defendants argued that the expert could not identify a true standard of care, policies and procedures, or other documents about how ambulance personnel are to respond in this situation. The Court of Appeals agreed and reversed.

In reversing, the Court noted that the expert opined that the national standard of care required one thing, but the state regulations applicable to the ambulance crew required something else. The expert did not rely on any other materials to support his opinion. While an expert can rely on experience, that experience must be specific to the situation at hand, which it was not in this case. Ultimately, the witness did not offer an explanation about how his experience correlated with his opinions. Accordingly, the Court concluded the opinions were unreliable under a Daubert analysis.

On the negligent training claim, the Court held the expert failed to show how the ambulance company failed to train the crew on this point. 

Take-home: this is one of the more specific appellate rulings regarding the use of Daubert to exclude standard of care opinions. Each case is specific, but this is helpful.

The case is National Emergency Medical Services, Inc. v. Smith, 2023 WL 3859346 (Ga.Ct.App. June 7, 2023).