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Strickland v. Pinder

May 25, 2006


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-4121-02) (Hon. Herbert B. Dixon, Jr., Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Washington, Chief Judge

Argued March 9, 2006

Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge, REID, Associate Judge, and BELSON, Senior Judge.

Appellant seeks review of the trial court's October 20, 2002 grant of the defendant's Motion for Judgment on the basis that the plaintiff's expert failed to both establish a national standard of care and provide, as a matter of law, sufficient basis for a reasonable juror to find that any alleged breach of the duty of care by the defendants had proximately caused the death of the decedent. The appellant contends that the trial court erred in finding: 1) that the appellant's expert failed to establish a national standard of care; and 2) that the appellees did not waive their challenge to the plaintiff's expert on the standard of care by failing to make a timely objection.*fn1 Finding no error, we affirm.


A. Facts

Quicha Reid reported to the emergency room of Providence Hospital on June 6, 2001 complaining of dizziness and chest pain. At the time, she was twenty-six weeks pregnant, weighed 300 pounds and suffered from high blood pressure, periodic bouts of chest pain, and shortness of breath. Doctors admitted Ms. Reid to Providence Hospital where she came under the care of several doctors including Drs. Thomas Pinder and Roy D. Flood. In an effort to rule out a tear in Ms. Reid's aorta, Drs. Pinder and Flood ordered a battery of tests including a transthoracic and transesophogeal echocardiogram and an MRI without contrast materials. The tests revealed that Ms. Reid suffered from a variety of cardiothoracic maladies that would require surgery at a later date, but at no point did any of these tests reveal any evidence of a tear in Ms. Reid's aorta.

Physicians stabilized Ms. Reid's blood pressure and discharged her from the hospital on June 15, 2001. On June 27, 2001, Ms. Reid reported for a scheduled obstetrician appointment where her physician admitted her to Washington Hospital Center under continued concern about her high blood pressure and the health of the fetuses. On the morning of July 1, 2001, Ms. Reid again complained of chest pains. Doctors temporarily alleviated her pain but later in the day, Ms. Reid became unresponsive and the heart rates of the two fetuses began to drop. Physicians performed an emergency Caesarean but tragically both Ms. Reid and one of the fetuses died shortly after the procedure. An autopsy later disclosed that Ms. Reid died as a result of an accumulation of blood around the heart due to a rupture in her aorta.

B. Procedural History

Dorothy Strickland, the decedent's mother, brought suit against the appellees alleging that they breached their standard of care by not performing additional tests when the decedent initially reported to the emergency room complaining of chest pains. The appellant asserted that had the physicians performed the additional tests, they would have discovered the dissections in the decedent's aorta and a cardiac surgeon could have addressed them, which would have prevented her death. At trial, the appellant called Dr. Robert Stark as an expert witness in cardiology and internal medicine. The appellee made no challenge to Dr. Stark's qualifications to serve as an expert witness. During his testimony, Dr. Stark expressed the opinion that Drs. Pinder and Flood breached their duty of care by failing to rule out a dissection or breach in the patient's aorta by performing either an aortic angiogram using dye or a magnetic resonance imaging exam with contrast material. Early on during Dr. Stark's testimony, trial counsel for the appellee objected on the grounds that he had not laid an adequate foundation to give his opinion of the standard of care in the District of Columbia. The court instructed trial counsel for the appellant to "start more from the beginning [of] how he [became] aware that a standard of care applies to the situation before we get to the standard of care."

Appellant's counsel continued to question the expert about his opinion regarding the standard of care which elicited additional objections from appellees' trial counsel. Judge Dixon then summoned the attorneys to the bench and gave the following instruction:

I'm going to allow Mr. Weil to proceed with this direct examination of the witness. If, in the end the record does not demonstrate the existence of a standard of care as opposed to a personal opinion I'll have to deal with it at that time. So, your objections are taken under advisement, but I'm going to allow the testimony to proceed.

At the close of redirect, appellees' counsel moved to strike Dr. Stark's testimony and for judgment on their behalf on the grounds that the expert had failed to establish a basis for his opinion of the national standard of care. Citing the fact that the expert failed to "clearly relate the standard of care to the practices recognized and followed by similarly ...

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