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Court Overturns $4.1M Medical Malpractice Verdict

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Jupiter Images
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Pointing to the unfair use of expert witnesses, a South Florida appeals court Wednesday ordered a new trial in a medical-malpractice case that led to a $4.1 million verdict against a pediatrician accused of negligently diagnosing a child's kidney disease.

In a 24-page ruling, a three-judge panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal said attorneys for the child, Monica Gutierrez, should not have been allowed to present testimony from four pathologists and also mischaracterized one witness' testimony.

The court ruled in favor of pediatrician Jose Luis Vargas, who treated the child for six years after she was born in 2000.

The Miami-Dade County lawsuit alleged that Vargas did not follow up on samples that showed elevated levels of protein in the urine of the child, who ultimately needed a kidney transplant, according to Wednesday's ruling.

The case has centered, at least in part, on the cause of the child's kidney problems and whether Vargas misdiagnosed the disease. The child's parents in 2008 filed a lawsuit that led to the $4.1 million verdict.

But the appeals court said a circuit judge, in part, limited the two sides to "one expert per specialty." That judge retired before the case was resolved, and Wednesday's ruling said the child's attorneys called four pathologists to testify about the timing and diagnosis of the disease.

Also, the ruling pointed to an attorney's misstatement of expert testimony in closing arguments.

"The unfair use of expert testimony in this case requires a new trial,'' said the ruling, written by Judge Leslie Rothenberg and joined by judges Frank Shepherd and Edwin Scales. "Dr. Vargas may or may not ultimately be responsible for Monica's injuries, but he is certainly entitled to the fair trial of which he was deprived."