Why Getting Opinions from the Right Experts Is So Important in Medical Malpractice Cases
Doctors go through years of school and on-the-job training to become experts in their field, so it makes sense that when a doctor is accused of medical malpractice, other doctors are brought in to evaluate the appropriateness of the actions taken or withheld. Judges and jurors rarely have the necessary background to fully appreciate the science that underlies medical decisions, and the testimony of a medical expert is supposed to fill-in these knowledge gaps. In addition to participating in the trial aspect of a malpractice case, medical experts are also needed in the early stages of a case to establish medical negligence possibly occurred. Thus, picking the right expert often makes or breaks the success of a claim. Given the integral role medical experts play in malpractice cases, and the reliance judges and juries must place on the expert’s knowledge, Florida law imposes qualification standards on medical experts that must be satisfied before his/her opinion may be considered. In fact, using the wrong type of doctor to support a malpractice claim can result in the case being dismissed and the victim barred from further legal action, as a Florida woman recently learned. A Florida court of appeals recently ruled that a claim against an orthopedic clinic could not be allowed to proceed because the injured plaintiff relied on the affidavit of a podiatrist, and not an orthopedic surgeon, when filing the lawsuit. A look at the law regarding the type of expert a plaintiff must use in medical malpractice suits, as well as on the specific role of the medical expert in these cases, will follow below.
Who Is Considered a Qualified Expert?
The rules on who is considered a qualified expert are aimed at ensuring specialists are evaluated by doctors that have the same background and training they do, since the treatment options employed might be beyond the understanding of a general physician. Consequently, if a malpractice case is filed against a doctor who specializes in a particular area, the expert used to offer testimony against the defendant must:
- specialize in the same area of medicine; and
- have actively practiced, taught or run a clinical program in the area for the previous three years.
While doctors across specialties may share knowledge over certain practices, for purposes of a medical malpractice case, it is best to go with the same type of specialist being sued to avoid potential dismissal of the case by a court. Experienced medical malpractice attorneys will understand how to determine when a particular medical expert is appropriate for a case, which highlights the importance of choosing a lawyer that has a full grasp of the law in this complicated area.
For general practitioners, the active practice, teaching or clinical research program operation must occur during the previous five years before a doctor would qualify to testify as an expert.
What Is the Expert’s Role?
As noted above, medical experts are needed to explain complex technical information to the judge and jury. Otherwise, the case would be too complicated for a jury to fairly decide. However, a jury is not required to accept the expert’s testimony as true, but may use it to consider the facts of the case. Medical experts are there to answer two primary questions:
- did the defendant follow the proper standard of care (what a competent doctor with similar experience would do in a related situation) when treating the plaintiff; and
- did the defendant’s failure to follow the proper standard of care cause the plaintiff’s injuries.
Medical experts are needed from the very start of a case, and as a result, injured parties should seek legal counsel about a potential malpractice claim as soon as possible, in case finding the right expert takes time.
Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney
Making the decision to sue a doctor for medical malpractice requires courage and fortitude to stand up to the rich health care industry and their insurance companies. Hiring the right medical malpractice attorney can make the experience much less daunting, and help you realize you do not have to suffer your injuries in silence. The Miami law firm of Pita Weber & Del Prado handles many types of medical malpractice claims, and is available to answer your questions. Call us for a free consultation.