Scott and Linda Crandell were both in the Marines in 1977 when their 6-month-old daughter, Jennifer, fell ill. The Crandells later sued the United States, claiming that medical personnel at the Quantico Marine Base had failed to diagnose spinal meningitis as Jennifer's ailment quickly enough. That delay, the couple alleged, left Jennifer severely retarded.
After a three-day trial in Alexandria, Judge Lewis dismissed their lawsuit.
Last week a federal appeals court in Richmond ordered a new trial in Crandell v. U.S. because of mistakes by the trial judge, Oren R. Lewis.
In its decision, the court cited the following exchange as unfair interference by Lewis with the Crandells' expert witness, and an attempt to ridicule the witness "while contorting his testimony."
Lewis: This doctor says it was, there was growth deficiency prior to the meningitis, isn't that what you just said?
The Witness: No. He is saying that from a review of the history . . . .
Lewis: (Interposing) Certainly, you couldn't exist without history, could you, Doctor?
Lewis: Well, I didn't think you could. You couldn't diagnose any thyroid without having a very complete history.
Witness: We could, yes.
Lewis: You could? Could you tell me now if I have got a headache, Doctor?
Witness: A headache is a symptom, not a disease.
Lewis: Could you tell me whether I have a thyroid deficiency without asking questions -- my, my, my, Doctor, you are the first doctor in all my 80 years that ever told me substantive symptoms, which is history, didn't mean a thing to you.
William O. Snead (the Crandells' lawyer): He didn't say that.
Witness: I didn't say that.
Lewis: I know what he said. I know what he means. He said he didn't need the history.
Witness: To make a diagnosis of hypothyroidism in an infant.
Lewis: That's what he said. He didn't need the history.
Witness: Yes, sir. I can explain why.
Lewis: Well, that's your opinion.
Snead: Could he explain it?
Lewis: Let him explain it. I don't want you to testify. You brought him over here as an expert.
Witness: . . . I can make the diagnosis by merely looking at the patient without a word being uttered because it is so characteristic.
Lewis: Well, I am sure if I had my right arm cut off you can tell me I am missing my right arm. I am conscious of that.