When a person passes away due to alleged medical malpractice and a lawsuit is filed, almost every case will demand that an expert witness testify and provide their experience and opinion on the matter. Why? Because without testimony offered by a medical expert, it is likely that the facts associated with the case will be far too complex to be disseminated and examined by parties who do not have a medical background. Therefore, it will be impossible to determine if a medical provider is to blame for the patient’s death, and the judge may be forced to dismiss the case outright, or a jury may not be able to decide regarding fault.
The Court’s Approach
Courts have decided that legal procedure dictates that a jury be provided with technical information as it relates to deliberating and deciding on medical malpractice cases. This is because most malpractice cases are complicated and multi-faceted. A layperson on a jury is likely unable to sort through this information without assistance from an expert. Now, understand that the jury is not required to subscribe to the expert witness’s opinion and guidance, but it must be used when examining the facts of the case.
Expert Witnesses Are Used by Both Sides
Another fact about the presence of an expert witness in a medical malpractice case is that this professional’s testimony could be needed by plaintiffs and defendants—the healthcare provider as well as the family who has had a loved one passed away.
Medical malpractice expert witnesses can demonstrate a doctor’s negligence as well as establish if they harbor no fault. And while some medical malpractice cases are incredibly straightforward—for instance, the doctor leaves a piece of surgical equipment in a patient during the procedure—other times, it is necessary to examine the potential for misdiagnosis or the prescribing of an incorrect treatment method. This is where an expert witness will be asked to examine the case, the patient’s passing, and other factors to explain why the doctor is or is not liable.
Do All Medical Malpractice Cases Require Expert Witnesses?
The answer to this question is not clear-cut, and it could depend on what state a medical malpractice case is being tried in. There are some states where a medical malpractice case is not able to commence without the involvement of an expert witness. In such a situation, written testimony is usually offered by an expert witness that asserts the likelihood of a malpractice situation. Then, in other cases, there are sometimes medical experts who are impaneled with the task of reviewing a case prior to the lawsuit moving forward.
What is Addressed in a Medical Expert’s Testimony?
The two most significant questions that are usually examined in a medical malpractice case are:
- Was a standard of care followed by the doctor in question that aligns with other professionals in the same position and during the same procedure?
- Was the death of the patient due to the doctor’s inability to adhere to the standard of care?
As it relates to the standard of care, the medical malpractice expert will seek to convey what a competent physician would have done pertaining to the issue that centers the case. They will offer their professional opinion as to whether the doctor against which the lawsuit has been filed adhered to the ascribed standard of care. Now, while there is significant room for debate in such a situation, the expert will likely utilize evidence found in medical board guidelines, peer-reviewed medical publications, and other trustworthy, standard-bearing sources. Again, the jury is not required to believe the expert’s opinion is the authority on the subject at hand.
To address the second question noted above, the expert will also be required to testify if the doctor’s actions caused the patient’s death. Usually, many factors are at play during a procedure or a plan of treatment, so the incompetence of the doctor may not be the direct cause of the negative outcome. The onus will be on the expert witness to explain how likely it was that the doctor’s negligence caused the death of the patient to the jury.
Who is Qualified to be an Expert Witness?
Depending on the nature of the case, this criterion can vary by state. However, most expert witnesses are legally recognized as certified health professionals who possess an active license. Additionally, the medical expert should have knowledge and experience in a medical specialty that aligns with the details of the case and spend most of their time in practice.
Dr. Satish Chundru is an experienced medical malpractice expert witness and can assist plaintiffs and defendants across the United States. With a background in Forensic Pathology, he is a board-certified practitioner. In addition, Dr. Chundru has performed 7K+ autopsies in California, Nevada, Texas, and Utah. For more information about his expert witness consulting services, reach out to his office today.