Strategically selecting and utilizing an appropriate expert witness is critical to the success of a medical malpractice case. The facts of medical cases are often extremely technical and specialized that judges need expert witnesses and sometimes even entire panels of experts to help with evaluating the circumstances of the situation. Experienced trial lawyer Alex Petraglia explains the necessity of using an expert medical witness and describes the nuances of ensuring the witness helps provide the best evidence possible to win your case.
What is Negligence, and How Do You Prove it in Court?
Medical malpractice is a medical error that causes injury to a patient as a result of an action not taken or as a result of the wrong action taken. From a legal perspective, several factors must be present to pursue a malpractice lawsuit:
- A violation of “standard of care” (otherwise known as Negligence) must have been committed; this means that the patient did not receive the level of care that a reasonably skilled healthcare professional would have provided under similar circumstances.
- The patient must have suffered an injury that would not have occurred without the violation of standard of care.
- The injury must have resulted in significant damages, such as medical bills, loss of income, disability, or excessive pain and suffering.
Establishing the validity of the first criterion, Negligence, is the pillar upon which the entire legal case stands. A good lawyer will use an expert witness to testify in court to determine what the standard of care should have been, where the negligent doctor deviated from standard of care, and how this action or inaction was directly responsible for injury to the patient.
Criteria for Using a Medical Expert Witness
Medical malpractice claims typically must be filed between six months and two years from when the medical treatment occurred, depending on the statute of limitations in your state. Obtaining a statement from a medical expert is so critical that it is usually a requirement for a case before the trial starts. In some states, it is required before a lawsuit can even be initiated. This requirement may be fulfilled either through a written testimony or for the facts to be submitted to a panel of medical experts.
A qualified expert witness will have a similar medical background as the medical field in which the malpractice occurred and may qualify based on a combination of board certifications, academic experience, or practical experience. Medical specializations must be accurately represented when relevant—e.g., a pediatrician should be consulted as the expert witness for a pediatric case.
The judge will then determine whether the witness’s testimony is admissible in court by analyzing the reasoning or the scientific validity of the methodology. This decision will be based on whether the testimony is based on peer-reviewed evidence, whether the theory has been tested, the theory’s propensity for error, and how well the theory is generally accepted within the scientific community.
Consult With a Legal Professional as Soon as Possible
Correctly utilizing a medical expert to prove Negligence in a medical malpractice case is a nuanced process that can make or break your case. Soliciting the help of a legal professional as soon as you believe malpractice has been committed is the best way to prepare for a trial and set your case up for success. An experienced trial attorney will ensure that the medical expert selected for your case will be presented to the judge and jury as a trustworthy authority figure with valid medical theories to explain how malpractice caused the patient’s injury.
About Alex Petraglia
Alex Petraglia is a licensed trial attorney dedicated to the vigorous representation of his clients. He currently works at Deters Law Office and has experience in both criminal defense and civil suits. Notably, Mr. Petraglia has completed Gideon’s Promise Trial Program, focusing on perfecting trial advocacy and client care. He gives it his all in every case to protect his clients’ liberty, health, and wealth.