Late last month, we blogged about the Mississippi Supreme Court's continuing efforts to settle the question of when, if ever, Rule 702 permits a nurse to testify as a medical expert at trial. At the time, we speculated that continued wrangling should be expected because of Presiding Justice George Carlson's impending retirement.
But we now know that Justice Carlson will be replaced by Oxford attorney Josiah Coleman. And although a lawyer representing a client has completely different obligations than does a judge deciding a case, Justice-elect Coleman's work as an attorney provides some insight into his view on the issue.
In Mid-South Retina, LLC v. Conner, 72 So. 3d 1048 (Miss. 2011), lawyer Coleman helped represent a surgeon against a plaintiff who alleged that the surgeon negligently administered an intravenous drug. When the time came to designate experts, the plaintiff designated -- you guessed it -- a nurse. And on interlocutory appeal, the Supreme Court held by a vote of 7-2 that lawyer Coleman's client was entitled to summary judgment because nurses are unqualified to testify regarding medical causation.
A review of the surgeon's appellate brief reveals an adament view that nurses cannot testify regarding medical causation. Of course, that's a view clearly supported by the Supreme Court's decision in Vaughn v. Mississippi Baptist Medical Center, 20 So. 3d 645 (Miss. 2009), so that argument should have been expected.
And, of course, a handful of caveats bear noting. First, lawyers are obligated to advocate views of the law that help their clients, whereas judges are required to interpret the law as they believe it to be. Those are not the same things. Second, although lawyer Coleman was counsel of record on the case, he did not sign the brief. For both of those reasons, lawyers should resist the urge to cite the Conner brief as some sort of binding precedent. Clearly, it's not.
But just as clearly, soon-to-be Justice Coleman has advocated a view of this issue before -- one that, ironically, his precedessor articulated as the Conner majority opinion's author. And if Justice-elect Coleman does eventually adopt the same view of this issue as Presiding Justice Carlson did before him, then perhaps this whole question isn't so unresolved after all.