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Nurse to Testify About Pain and Suffering: The Inside Story

Nurse to Testify About Pain and Suffering: The Inside Story

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Sieglinde Heinzerling, pain and suffering, fact witness, Judge SabatinoThe Heinzerling v. David Goldfarb case was decided 10 years ago. This case was heard by Judge Sabatino of Mercer County. In this case, the plaintiff attorney, Gerald Stockman, used a nurse to summarize the medical records of Sieglinde Heinzerling.

Ms. Heinzerling was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1997 and died 10 months later. Larry Heinzerling, her husband, alleged that her medical providers were negligent for failing to diagnose cancer sooner.

I met Larry Heinzerling when he came to the office of Gerald Stockman when I was consulting with him on his personal injury and medical malpractice cases. In the course of my consulting with Gerry, I explained the role of a nurse in summarizing medical records to help the jury understand symptoms and treatment. Prior to (and after) the Heinzerling case, I testified on several cases in this capacity for other attorneys. Gerry listened to my ideas, filed them away, and retained a nurse to summarize the records.

The defense objected to the nurse’s role; Judge Sabatino heard the arguments and issued his opinion. He referred to the New Jersey Evidence Rule 1006 which states that:

The contents of voluminous writings or photographs which cannot be conveniently examined in court may be presented by a qualified witness in the form of a chart, summary, or calculation. The originals or duplicates shall be made available for examination or copying or both, by other parties at a reasonable time and place. The judge may order that they are produced to the court.

Judge Sabatino cited several other cases and rules of evidence. He found that live testimony by the nurse would be more readily understood and accessed by a lay jury than dry written materials. He denied the defendants’ motion in Limine to bar the nurse’s testimony. This case subsequently settled.

The Heinzerling decision provided a substantial support for other attorneys who retain nurses to summarize medical records. It has made it easier to introduce this type of testimony, and it has made it easier for juries to understand complex medical details. The nurse acts as the interpreter of the patient’s experiences as documented in the medical record. The nurse gives the patient a voice.

Med League provides medical expert witnesses to trial lawyers. Please call us at (908)788-8227 or contact us today to discuss your next case.

359 NJ Super, 1: 818 A.2d 345; 2002 NJ Super, Lexus 531

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