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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court issues one today, upholding $325,000 jury verdict in "workplace bullying" case

In Daniel H. Raess, M.D. v. Joseph E. Doescher, a 16-page, 4-1 opinion, argued Oct. 10, 2007, Justice Dickson writes:

This is an appeal by defendant Daniel Raess, M.D., a cardiovascular surgeon, challenging a $325,000 jury verdict and judgment on a claim for assault brought by plaintiff Joseph Doescher, a hospital operating room perfusionist (the person who operates the heart/lung machine during open heart surgeries). The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial. Raess v. Doescher, 858 N.E.2d 119 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), aff'd on reh'g,. 861 N.E.2d 1216 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007). We granted transfer and now affirm the judgment of the trial court. * * *

Shepard, C.J., and Rucker, J., concur.
Sullivan, J., concurs in result with separate opinion.
Boehm, J., dissents with separate opinion. [which begins] I respectfully dissent from the majority’s conclusion that challenges to Dr. Namie’s testimony were not preserved for appeal. I also conclude that his testimony was inadmissible and prejudicial.

I agree with the majority that a pretrial motion alone is insufficient to preserve for appellate review a claim of error in admitting evidence. I also agree that to preserve a claimed error at trial, a party must “make a contemporaneous objection that is sufficiently specific to alert the trial judge fully of the legal issue.” . I dissent because I believe Dr. Raess established that the trial court was alerted to the issue, and therefore the issue of admissibility of Dr. Namie’s testimony was preserved for appeal. * * *

I believe the defendant’s objections were well grounded. Evidence Rule 702 permits expert opinion testimony as to “scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge” to “assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.” Dr. Namie testified that in his opinion, the November 2, 2001 incident was “an episode of workplace bullying.” He also testified that “based on what I heard and what I read that Dan Raess is a workplace abuser, a person who subjected Mr. Doescher to an abusive work environment.” Nowhere, however, does Dr. Namie explain what a workplace bully is. Dr. Namie by his own testimony is not a clinical psychologist and is not qualified to testify as to how workplace bullying affected the plaintiff, and he did not testify on that subject. This is testimony characterizing an event, but offering no assistance to interpret or understand it. Without any context, the “workplace bullying” label is nothing more than highly prejudicial name-calling of no help to the jury. * * *

A “verbal assault” is not a legal assault, placing the victim in fear, stressful as it may be. Dr. Namie’s labeling of the defendant amounted to purported expert testimony that the defendant had bullied the plaintiff. The erroneous admission of his testimony was therefore not harmless. I would remand for a new trial.

The ILB has posted a number of entries on this case, beginning with this one from March 5, 2005, quoting an Indianapolis Star story announcing the trial court decision, with this lede: "In a potentially landmark case involving workplace bullying, a jury in Marion Superior Court on Friday ordered St. Francis Hospital's chief heart surgeon, Dr. Daniel H. Raess, to pay a former hospital employee $325,000."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 8, 2008 02:09 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions