Dermatologist Not Qualified To Testify To Standard Of Care

On December 11, 2017, plaintiffs filed a New Jersey medical malpractice complaint against Jesse Stawicki, D.O., Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, and Anthony Ricketti, M.D. According to plaintiffs, on December 24, 2015, plaintiff Diane Colletti came to the hospital with “a painful burning rash,” and defendants “observed that [she] was suffering from Stephen-Johnson Syndrome…, New Jersey Appellate Court Affirms Dermatologist Not Qualified To Testify To Standard Of Care Of Internal Medicine Physician In Medical Malpractice Case, Nov 2023


Plaintiffs alleged defendants had “failed to hold [Diane] for further treatment and testing, despite acknowledging that her Stephen-Johnson Syndrome had not resolved” and that Diane had returned home at the doctors’ direction. Plaintiffs contended Diane’s condition worsened over the next two days, resulting in a subsequent hospitalization, additional medical treatment, and surgery. Plaintiffs alleged, among other things, defendants were negligent in failing to render proper care to Diane and failing to hold her for further evaluation and treatment.


During his deposition, Stawicki testified he had been practicing internal medicine since 1984 and was board certified in internal medicine from 2007 until 2017. According to Stawicki, after Diane was seen by doctors in the emergency department, he admitted her and directed she be placed in the telemetry-service unit of the hospital, determined which other doctors would consult with her, communicated with those doctors about her condition and care, examined her, reviewed and prepared progress notes about her, and prepared her discharge summary.


After the plaintiffs’ originally named expert died, they substituted an expert who was “board certified in Internal Medicine, Dermatology, and Clinical Informatics” and “actively engaged in the practice of Dermatology.” Plaintiffs’ counsel conceded that their expert, Dr. Mostaghimi, had not practiced in internal medicine within one year of the alleged malpractice, but argued applying the requirement would be “inequitable” because Mostaghimi had practiced in internal medicine in 2013, which was “so close in time” to the time required in the PFA.


The trial court held that although Mostaghimi was board certified in internal medicine like Stawicki, he did not satisfy the requirements of N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-41(a)(2) because he had “not devote[d] a majority of his time in the practice or instruction of internal medicine in 2014,” the year immediately prior to the alleged malpractice.


The Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division held in its September 6, 2023 decision: “Pursuant to the PFA, plaintiffs were required to support their claim through the testimony of an expert witness qualified to opine on the applicable standard of care. To be qualified under the PFA, plaintiffs’ expert witness had to have practiced in the same specialty as Stawicki at the time of the alleged malpractice. Plaintiffs’ substitute expert witness failed to meet that standard. Accordingly, because plaintiffs could not provide the essential expert testimony required to prove their medical-negligence claim.”


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