The Role of Expert Witnesses in Medical Malpractice Cases
Not everyone is comfortable with putting their lives into the hands of others, however, in some cases, doing so is the only option. Interacting with a medical professional is one of those times. And, if the medical professional fails to act in accordance with a proper standard of care, and violates the trust bestowed on him/her, retaining the services of an attorney experienced in medical malpractice matters is crucial to obtaining compensation for any resulting injuries. Although, in most instances, when thinking of putting their lives into the hands of a medical professional, people envision surgery or visits to the emergency room, there are other times a patient must trust a medical professional to do the right thing. Recently, the Florida Supreme Court allowed a medical malpractice case to go to trial related to a woman who collapsed and died a few days after giving birth to a stillborn child. The unique aspect of this case, and why the Florida Supreme Court had to rule, concerned the qualifications an expert witness used during the pre-suit process. Given how pivotal medical testimony is in malpractice cases, a discussion of the role that expert witnesses play in these matters will follow below.
Medical malpractice cases are a specific form of negligence, and involve a higher standard of care, compared with the average person. That is, to be successful in a medical malpractice case, a plaintiff must prove that the medical professional, by his/her action or inaction, failed to act according to the professional standard of care, which is measured by how another similarly experienced doctor in the same specialty would have responded in a similar situation. In addition, the medical professional’s action, or inaction, must have caused an injury to the plaintiff.
In a medical malpractice matter, it is the role of the expert witness to explain to the judge or jury, key points about the defendant’s actions and level of care. In addition, they are involved in the pre-suit process to provide a written opinion about the possible existence of negligence, as in the case mentioned above. During trial, though, the role is expanded to include the following:
- The standard of care. Essentially, the expert witness will provide testimony as to what the standard of care is in the particular situation. Since protocol varies by specialty, the appropriate standard of care will vary as well. Thus, the expert may offer evidence, such as medical publications or medical board guidelines, to explain why the standard of care that he/she is offering is, in fact, the appropriate standard of care the medical professional defendant should have followed.
- The action or inaction by the medical professional. Once the standard of care is established, the expert witness will provide his/her opinion as to whether the actions or inactions of the medical adhered to that standard. He/she will do this by comparing the medical professional defendant’s actions with the standard of care that he/she had already established.
- The proximate cause of the patient’s injury. Finally, the expert witness will provide testimony as to whether the medical professional defendant’s action or inaction caused the injury the patient plaintiff. Injuries can be caused by a number of factors, and the action or inaction of the medical professional defendant may not have been the direct cause of the patient plaintiff’s injuries. Accordingly, the expert witness must make this connection in a manner that can be understood by the jury.
Seek Legal Advice
If you suffered an injury as a result of treatment by a medical professional, contact a medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. The attorneys at the law firm of Pita Weber & Del Prado have experience in medical malpractice matters, and can determine whether the injury can be attributable to a medical professional. If so, we will work to determine the best course of action to get you the compensation you deserve. Contact our Miami office today for an initial consultation.