The Role of Expert Witnesses in Medical Malpractice Cases
If you are contemplating filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, one overwhelming and large issue that must be addressed in every case is how to prove the medical treatment given was negligent and/or dangerous. Medical malpractice suits are generally complicated because of the complexity of the scientific and medical information involved and the extra steps Florida law requires each claimant to go through before suit can be formally filed in court. One indispensable party to any malpractice case is the expert medical witness. This person is needed to figure out what scientific information is needed to establish the defendant did not render appropriate medical treatment, and how to present this information to a jury in an understandable format. Given the large and integral role expert medical witnesses play in malpractice cases, Florida law includes a number of provisions that lay out when a person qualifies as an expert and what information he/she is permitted to tell a jury. A discussion of the purpose of testimony from a medical expert and how one qualifies to be an expert will follow below.
What Exactly Is Medical Negligence?
Essentially, the function of a medical malpractice case is to hold a medical provider responsible for injuries a patient suffered due to inadequate treatment under the legal theory of medical negligence. Specifically, the plaintiff is charged with showing a judge or jury that the actions of the medical professional breached the professional standard of care owed to the patient and injuries followed. This professional standard of care refers to the level of treatment a doctor should provide to a patient based on how other prudent doctors in a similar situation, with the same level of skill and experience, would decide which treatments were acceptable and appropriate. In this context, the expert medical witness testifies about the applicable standards of medical care that the doctor should have used in the case. In addition, this expert expert also establishes causation by showing the doctor’s actions or inaction led to the plaintiff’s injuries. The testimony about causation is necessary because the existence of a medical injury, with the exception of the presence of medical paraphernalia in a patient’s body, is not enough to prove negligence. The plaintiff still must show the doctor was the source of the injury due to substandard care.
Who Qualifies as an Expert Witness?
At a minimum, in order to testify as a medical expert in a malpractice case, the person must have an active medical license and fully review the pertinent medical records of the plaintiff. Beyond these basic requirements, it is also necessary that the person:
- specialize in the same area of medicine as the defendant; and
- during the preceding three years actively practiced or consulted in this area of medicine, taught medical students about this area, or participated in clinical research in this specialty.
When it comes to the actual testimony, Florida law requires any expert to present the testimony as an opinion and the testimony itself must:
- be based on sufficient facts or data; and
- reflect reliable principles and methods.
This standard is in place to ensure expert testimony has some foundation in fact and science, and is not based on the unfounded claims of one person.
Get Legal Advice
Bringing a medical malpractice claim to trial is long and complex process that requires the services of an lawyer experienced in this area. The Miami law firm of Pita Weber & Del Prado understands the emotional toll these cases can take on a family and works to get the compensation they deserve. Contact the office for a free consultation.