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Trujillo v. Vail Clinic, Inc.

2020 COA 126. No. 19CA0356. Expert Testimony—CRE 702—CRE 403.

August 20, 2020

During Trujillo’s birth, he suffered injuries that reduced the supply of oxygen to his brain and left him with permanent disabilities. Trujillo and his parents (collectively, plaintiffs) sued defendants, alleging professional negligence. Plaintiffs disclosed several experts who were prepared to testify that cranial compression ischemic encephalopathy (CCIE) caused the reduction of the blood/oxygen supply to Trujillo’s brain. Before trial, defendants moved to limit the testimony of plaintiffs’ experts. Following a hearing, the district court granted defendants’ motion, finding the CCIE testimony was neither reasonably reliable, helpful to the jury, nor admissible under CRE 403. Defendants then moved for summary judgment. The court granted the motion, concluding that without the CCIE testimony, plaintiffs could not establish causation as a matter of law.

On appeal, plaintiffs argued that the district court erred by excluding the CCIE testimony. CRE 702 provides for the admission of expert testimony based on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge if it is both reliable and relevant. Expert testimony is relevant if it would be helpful to the jury and satisfies the CRE 403 requirement that the probative value of the evidence not substantially outweigh the danger of unfair prejudice. The reliability of expert testimony requires consideration of the totality of the circumstances surrounding the proposed expert testimony. The standard for admitting expert testimony is liberal.

Here, the trial court put determinative weight on the fact that CCIE, as a complete theory, had not been tested, widely accepted in the medical field, or published in peer-reviewed journals. However, the totality of the circumstances, which included the reliability of the underlying pathophysiological mechanisms and concepts on which CCIE is based, combined with an expert’s testimony that the pathophysiology was consistent with and supported the validity of CCIE, rendered CCIE reasonably reliable. Therefore, the court erred in holding that the CCIE theory was not scientifically reliable. Further, plaintiffs’ expert’s testimony that CCIE fit as a cause of Trujillo’s condition and no other causes were plausible was uncontroverted and thus reliable. And because the testimony was reliable and bore on causation, it was helpful to the jury and therefore relevant and admissible under CRE 403.

The summary judgment order was reversed and the case was remanded with directions to reinstate plaintiffs’ claims and conduct further proceedings consistent with the opinion.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

Related Topics

Expert Testimony, CRE 702, CRE 403

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