It is required in nearly all medical malpractice cases that both parties have a medical expert to give testimony. The facts in these cases can be very complex and non-doctors need the testimony to determine whether the patient’s doctor should be liable to the injuries of the patient. If a party does not have medical expert testimony, the judge will dismiss the case or make a decision early because the technical information needed to be considered by the information is too complicated to understand without help. While the jury is not required to agree with the expert’s opinion, they are required to use it when considering the facts.
The Testimony of Medical Expert’s
Medical experts address two questions in every medical malpractice case:
- Did the patient’s doctor follow the same standard of care of other doctors in the same position?
- Did the failure to follow the standard of care cause the patient’s injury?
The medical expert will testify as to what a normal, competent doctor would have done in the same situation. The expert will then give their opinion regarding whether the doctor who is being sued lived up to that standard of care. Experts may use evidence such as medical publications or medical board guidelines since there are not any hard-and-fast rules regarding the standard of care. However, the jury is not required to take the publications or the opinion of the expert as the final word in its decision.
The expert witness must also testify as to whether the failure of the doctor to live up to the standard of care caused the patient’s injury. There are most often a variety of factors at play in every medical situation and the incompetence of the doctor may not have been the direct cause of the bad outcome. It is part of the witness’ job to explain to the jury the likelihood that the incompetence of the doctor caused the injury.
Both parties need to have experts. The substance of their testimony must be disclosed to the court prior to trial. Failure to do so before the court’s deadline may lead the court to decide the case in the other party’s favor before the trial even begins. The only exception is if an expert opinion is not required.
There are some instances where the medical malpractice is so obvious that the testimony of a medical expert is not necessary for the jury to understand the facts. Expert witness testimony is not necessary when:
- Control over the cause of the injury was solely with the doctor or medical staff, and
- The injury could only have resulted from the failure of the doctor to adhere to the normal standard of care.
However it is not wise to assume that a medical expert is not necessary. The doctor’s incompetence may be obvious; however it may not be obvious that the incompetence caused the injury. Additionally, the defendant may be able to argue that the doctor did not have sole control over the situation. It is a good idea to have a medical expert on standby in case the court decides that one is necessary.
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