MEDICAL MALPRACTICE AND PERSONAL INJURY LAW BLOG

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How to Find an Expert Witness for a Medical Malpractice Case

Medical science requires a lot of training, education, and experience. Understanding how a medical mistake caused serious damage can require the specialized knowledge that only a doctor has. This is one of the reasons why a medical expert is so important to your medical malpractice case. 

Medical experts are a standard part of any medical malpractice claim. In most cases, a medical expert is required to certify the lawsuit before the case can ever get to court. An injury victim may not know where to turn to find a medical expert. This is where the experience of a seasoned trial attorney comes into play. An experienced medical malpractice attorney understands what type of medical experts will be required and where to find them. 

A medical malpractice claim may require an expert witness to help you win your case. If you were the victim of a medical accident and you suffered an injury or loss, contact Gilman & Bedigian today online or by phone at 800-529-6162.  

What Is an Expert Witness in a Medical Malpractice Case?

In a medical malpractice lawsuit, the injury victim is trying to show the jury how their doctor made a serious mistake that caused injury and harm. When demonstrating negligence in a medical malpractice case, the doctor’s actions are compared to what another reasonable doctor would have done under similar circumstances. The jury does not know what another doctor would have done without the testimony of another doctor. 

An expert witness is used in a medical malpractice case to explain to the jury about the standards of care. The standards of care are what a reasonable doctor would do under similar circumstances, given their training, education, and experience. After an expert witness explains the medical standards of care, the jury can then determine whether the doctor in the lawsuit deviated from the standard practice or not. 

Medical expert witnesses are involved in a malpractice lawsuit at multiple stages. For the injury victim, an expert witness certification may be required before the lawsuit can go forward. An expert witness may review the case and provide a report to evaluate the care provided and point out any substandard care. During the trial, an expert witness may testify to the jury about their findings, so the jury can make a more informed decision. 

Why Do You Need an Expert Witness?

If you want to know why a certain medical procedure is required for a medical condition, you would talk to a doctor. Why would you talk to a doctor about medical information? A doctor has specific experience, education, and training about human anatomy, medical conditions, and treatment. A doctor generally has specific understanding about medical treatment that most other people do not know. This is why you need a medical expert as an expert witness in a medical malpractice case

An expert witness may also be required as one of the conditions to filing a lawsuit for a medical malpractice claim. Most states require an affidavit or certification from an expert to show that the claim has merit. The affidavit of merit shows that there is a legitimate purpose to filing the medical malpractice claim and that the lawsuit is not frivolous. If you want to know why you need an expert witness in your medical malpractice case, talk to your medical negligence attorney

Qualified Medical Experts 

As part of a medical malpractice lawsuit where the expert witness testifies in front of the jury, the expert has to show they are “qualified.” Qualifying an expert witness is generally a requirement in a malpractice lawsuit, to show the so-called “expert” has the education, experience, training, and knowledge that would make them an expert in a specific area of knowledge. In most cases, qualifying the expert is not complicated because most medical experts are actual doctors. 

The procedure of qualifying an expert witness occurs during voir dire. Voir dire is a French term for “to speak the truth,”  which means a preliminary examination of a witness by a judge or attorney. Your attorney would present the medical expert for direct examination and then the other attorney could cross-examine the expert. This process is intended to demonstrate to the jury the expert’s background, education, and experience. 

Philadelphia Medical Expert Qualifications

Each state has its own requirements for expert witness testimony. Under the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence 702, a witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:

  • the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge is beyond that possessed by the average layperson;
  • the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue; and
  • the expert’s methodology is generally accepted in the relevant field.

A jury is made up of the community and can include people from any walk of life. However, most jurors do not have the specific medical training and experience of a doctor. Even if there is one doctor on the jury, a medical expert may be necessary to help the other jurors understand what the standards of care for medical care would be under certain circumstances. Qualifying a medical expert is important to help the jury understand what happened in the specific case. 

Baltimore Rules for Medical Experts

Maryland has specific rules for expert witnesses in a lawsuit. Under Maryland Rules of Evidence 5-702:

“Expert testimony may be admitted, in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if the court determines that the testimony will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue. In making that determination, the court shall determine

  1. whether the witness is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education;
  2. the appropriateness of the expert testimony on the particular subject; and
  3. whether a sufficient factual basis exists to support the expert testimony.”

In a Baltimore medical malpractice case, the medical expert can talk to the jury about what the doctor did wrong, how they deviated from standard practice, and how that deviation caused the plaintiff’s injury. On the other hand, the defendants will likely have their own medical expert to testify to the alternative. It is left to the jury to determine whether or not the defendant’s actions were responsible for causing the plaintiff’s injury. 

Chicago Medical Expert 

Illinois court rules provide the standards for expert witness qualification in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Under the Illinois Rules of Evidence 702:

“If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise. Where an expert witness testifies to an opinion based on a new or novel scientific methodology or principle, the proponent of the opinion has the burden of showing the methodology or scientific principle on which the opinion is based is sufficiently established to have gained general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs.”

What Does an Expert Witness Do in a Medical Malpractice Case?

An expert witness can be involved throughout a medical malpractice case. Medical malpractice lawsuits are more complex than standard personal injury claims. Medical malpractice cases involve allegations against a doctor or hospital that involves industry-specific terminology, science, and practices. A medical expert is necessary to help the jury understand what happened in a case, what went wrong, and who might be responsible for damages. 

There are many things a medical expert can do in a medical malpractice case. Some of the ways a medical malpractice expert is involved include:

  • Helping a medical malpractice attorney develop a strong lawsuit against the doctors and hospitals
  • Providing a certificate of a qualified expert for an affidavit of merit in order to file a claim in the state
  • Evaluating the medical care provided to the injury victim
  • Evaluating the causation of the victim’s injuries
  • Testify to the jury about the doctor’s negligence
  • Providing an expert report on the medical malpractice case
  • Responding to the defendants’ own medical experts

Expert Witnesses and Filing the Complaint

The healthcare lobby has a lot of money and influence. It is in the interest of health care companies and insurance companies to reduce the number of lawsuits that look to hold negligent doctors liable for damages. One of the ways the healthcare industry has reduced malpractice lawsuits is by increasing the burden to file a lawsuit in the first place. Unlike other types of personal injury claims, a medical malpractice lawsuit may be required to provide an affidavit of or certification from an expert. 

For example, under the Maryland Health Care Malpractice Claims Act (HCMCA), a medical malpractice claim can be dismissed if the plaintiff fails to file a certificate of a qualified expert within 90 days from the date of the complaint. A qualifying certificate shows the doctor attests to a departure from standards of care in the case, and that the departure is a proximate cause of the alleged injury. 

For most medical malpractice cases, the certificate of merit comes from a qualifying medical expert, which states that the plaintiff has a legitimate legal claim. The expert affidavit may include evidence of the expert’s qualifications, including the expert’s:

  • Current medical license
  • Teaching at an academic institution
  • Practicing medicine in a related area to the claim
  • Board certification in a related medical field

Without an affidavit of merit or certificate or certificate of merit, the defendants in the lawsuit may be able to have the lawsuit dismissed and the injury victim will not be able to pursue compensation for their injuries. It is important to understand that you do not need to find an expert witness in your case. Your attorney will be able to review your case and find a qualifying expert who can provide the affidavit of merit necessary to pursue your claim.  

Expert Witnesses and Breach of Standard of Care

Medical experts can speak to the standard of care provided in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Part of a medical malpractice claim involves showing the doctor breached the standard of care, which caused the injury. What is the standard of care? The standard of care is what a reasonable doctor would do under similar circumstances, given their training, education, experience, and practice area. 

If a doctor follows the standards of care and the patient suffers an injury, the injury may not be the fault of the doctor. However, if the doctor does something that other reasonable doctors would not have done, and their deviation from standard care is what caused the injury, then the doctor may be liable for the patient’s injuries. A medical expert can testify to the doctor’s actions and whether they were within the standards of care or went outside of what a reasonable doctor would have done.

Causation of the Injury and Expert Testimony

Showing that a doctor was responsible for a medical malpractice injury requires proving 4 elements. The plaintiff has the burden of proving all elements of the charge, “by a preponderance of the evidence,” which include:  

  • Duty 
  • Breach
  • Causation
  • Harm

For example, in a Chicago medical malpractice lawsuit, the injury victim has to show that by the standard of care in the medical community by which the physician’s treatment was measured, the physician deviated from the standard of care, which proximately caused the patient’s injuries.

The plaintiff can show causation where injury could not have otherwise occurred but for the breach of care of the doctor. A medical expert who understands the medical standards can testify as to whether or not the doctor’s actions or inactions were within the standards of care or were a deviation. The medical expert may be necessary to prove direct and proximate causation of the patient’s injury. 

Expert Witnesses and Damages

An expert witness can also testify about damages. It can be difficult to communicate the consequences of a medical negligence injury. For example, it may be difficult for an able-bodied juror to understand what it is like to lose a leg because of an infection injury caused by a doctor’s negligence. A juror may only think about the difficulties in getting around in daily life. However, a doctor may be necessary to talk about the long-term complications of such an injury. 

A doctor may be able to explain to the jury about the medical complications involved in an injury, including the follow-up medical care, pain and suffering involved, future costs of medical care, associated complications, and other damages involved in a medical injury. Other types of experts may also be used, including actuarial experts to testify about the likely future costs and outcomes of a serious medical injury. 

For example, a birth injury can be one of the most traumatic types of medical malpractice cases. A birth injury that causes serious brain damage can cause permanent physical and mental disabilities. The lifelong consequences of a birth injury may not be known at the time of a birth injury medical malpractice lawsuit and experts may be necessary to help the jury understand the costs of birth injury lifetime care. Calculating the projected costs of medical care is based on expert witness reports to estimate a range of future medical expenses. 

For More Information About Expert Witnesses and Medical Malpractice Claims

Expert witnesses are vital for a medical malpractice lawsuit to certify the claim and show how the doctor’s negligence caused the injury. If you were injured because of a doctor’s mistake, talk to an experienced attorney about how to find an expert witness for your injury claim. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.

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