Efforts To Discredit CRPS Diagnosis: Rejected by California Courts

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A recent California case illustrates how Courts are handling Complex Regional Pain Syndrome cases and efforts to discredit the diagnosis.  In Allphin v. Peter K. Fitness, LLC, et al., (2015) 78 F.Supp.3d. 987, a case from the Northern District of California case, the defendants attempted to discredit plaintiff’s Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) diagnosis.  The defendants asserted multiple affirmative defenses claiming, among other things, medical malpractice arising from the CRPS diagnosis. Allphin illustrates the court’s assessment and rejection of the attack on the CRPS diagnosis.

In Allphin, plaintiff brought a strict products liability action for an injury from a defective exercise resistance band that unexpectedly broke.  Plaintiff’s treating doctors diagnosed her with CRPS.  Each of the 3 defendants asserted affirmative defenses challenging the CRPS diagnosis on medical malpractice grounds, seeking to apportion their damages.  Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgement on defendants’ medical malpractice defense, seeking to have it dismissed.

The Allphin court centers its discussion around defendants’ medical expert, Dr. Jose Ochoa, the defense expert, and his position that CRPS is not valid.  The Court rejected Dr. Ochoa opinions, noting that for example, in Dr. Ochoa’s report of his medical examination of plaintiff he states CRPS is not a valid medical diagnosis but in the same report states that CRPS is unanimously recognized as a neurological condition, and is recognized by all pain management doctors.  Dr. Ochoa’s deposition also stated his belief that CRPS is a “‘mythical diagnosis’” and describes pain management doctors as “‘flat earth people,’” “‘cult-driven,’” and “‘amateurs.’”  (Allphin v. Peter K. Fitness, LLC, et al., supra, 78 F.Supp.3d. at 990).  Dr. Ochoa essentially argues that any doctor prescribing a CRPS diagnosis is committing per se malpractice without identifying the standard of care.  Even defendants’ counsel was unable to describe what plaintiff’s doctors’ standard of care should be.  The court granted plaintiff’s motion to dismiss the medical malpractice defense, excluded Dr. Ochoa’s testimony, and denied jury instructions relevant to the malpractice.

Allphin illustrates that a CRPS diagnosis will stand up to an attack on the validity of the disorder.  It also illustrates that efforts to paint physicians who treat CRPS patients as out of the mainstream often backfire on the physician making that claim.