In determining whether a witness may testify at the time of trial about his or her interpretations of an MRI that the witness did not initially interpret, the New Jersey Courts have made it clear that the witness must be qualified to interpret the MRI and cannot merely rely on reported findings from the interpreting radiologist.
In a recent New Jersey Appellate Division Case, Gonzalez v. Smith, A-3011-10T2, decided on February 27, 2012, the Appellate Division held that plaintiff’s treating physician was qualified to testify as to his interpretations of plaintiff’s MRIs without testimony from the radiologist who initially read the MRI.
In Gonzalez, plaintiff sustained back injuries in a motor vehicle accident. After undergoing conservative treatment without improvement, plaintiff underwent diagnostic studies, including an MRI, which revealed “L5-S1 small central posterior left paracentral disc herniation in close proximity to the S1 nerve root.” She was referred to Dr. Boris Prakhina for pain management. Dr. Prakhina subsequently performed epidural injections and a percutaneous disc compression.
At trial, Dr. Prakhina, plaintiff’s only medical witness, opined that plaintiff “sustained a herniated disc that was caused by the accident and that the injury was permanent.” On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court erroneously allowed Dr. Prakhina to testify regarding his review and interpretation of the MRI.
The Appellate Division found that Dr. Prakhina was qualified and competent to offer such testimony and therefore the trial court did not err in allowing him to testify regarding his interpretations of plaintiff’s MRI without testimony from the interpreting radiologist. Dr. Prakhina had received training in MRI interpretation and interpreted and reviewed MRIs on a daily basis in his medical practice. Dr. Prakhina had also successfully interpreted plaintiff’s MRI in administering the epidural injections. Therefore, due to Dr. Prakhina’s qualifications in reviewing and interpreting MRIs, testimony from the interpreting radiologist was unnecessary.
In its decision, the Appellate Division found that plaintiff was not attempting to admit “bootstrapped hearsay” from an unqualified witness. The Appellate Division therefore distinguished Brun v. Cardoso, 390 N.J. Super. 409 (App. Div. 2006), wherein the Appellate Division concluded plaintiff’s MRI report was inadmissible hearsay because the witness providing his interpretation of the MRI was not qualified to do so. Therefore, allowing such testimony would permit the admission of non-admissible hearsay of a non-testifying expert. The Gonzalez Court also distinguished Agha v. Feiner, 198 N.J. 50 (2009), wherein the Supreme Court found that the trial court erred in allowing two physicians to testify regarding plaintiff’s MRI when one physician admitted he was not qualified to interpret an MRI and the other did not review the films, because the testimony “bootstrapped” the contested MRI report findings into evidence.
In evaluating whether the adversary’s witness is qualified to testify regarding his or her impressions of plaintiff’s MRI films, it is necessary to determine what training and experience the witness has had in reviewing and interpreting such films. Whether a witness is qualified is a question of law for the court. Cases such as Gonzalez are therefore instructive to the court in its evaluation.
by Erin L. Peters, Esq.