In one of the many lawsuits by hip-replacement patients against the maker of the Durom Cup, Kline v. Zimmer, Inc. (D2d8 may 26, 2022) ___ Cal.Rptr.3d ___ 2022 WL 1679539 held the trial court committed structural error when it improperly excluded Zimmer’s expert to rebut the plaintiff’s expert. This is surprising because, normally, trial court rulings on evidence are reviewed for abuse of discretion, and errors are only reversed if the appellant shows they affected the result. But the exclusion of a rebuttal expert here resulted in automatic reversal.
Basically, the plaintiff offered an expert to opine that the Durom Cup was the cause of the pain and suffering. Zimmer’s expert was going to opine about other possible causes, even if they were less than 51% likely to be the cause. The trial court excluded it because medical expert opinion has to be 51% likely.
The Court of Appeal reversed. A defendant’s expert doesn’t have to prove 51% likelihood. The 51% threshold is the plaintiff’s burden of proof, not the defendant’s.
And where the excluded rebuttal opinion was the only rebuttal opinion, the exclusion leads to a “one-sided presentation of evidence.” This was a structural error, requiring automatic reversal.
The Upshot: This is the second reversal after a trial, which means the parties will have to try this case a third time. The trial judge, the Hon. Daniel J. Buckley, is a former personal-injury defense attorney. This suggests that, despite the care and experience devoted to this trial, trial procedure governing experts is both extraordinarily important and extraordinarily variable. To the extent expert issues can be crystallized in motions in limine, trial counsel should consider taking up a writ petition.