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Expert Witnesses in Medical Malpractice Trials

In medical malpractice cases sides are permitted to and almost always do use expert medical witnesses for testimony on the specifics of an injury or death caused by alleged doctor or hospital negligence. Like fact witnesses, expert witnesses can also differ on the specifics of a misdiagnosis, a botched surgery, or any other type of treatment and whether or not it had a causal effect on the plaintiff’s injury or death. This is why lawyers must carefully examine and cross examine expert witnesses, who in this context are medical professionals, to elicit information that supports their own case or defense and disproves their adversary’s case or defense. Juries can then use this information in considering the overall facts and circumstances of the incident in question.

Providing Clarity in Med Mal Cases
The information involved in a medical malpractice suit is typically so technical that it requires someone versed in the field to explain it to the court and to a jury of laypeople who more than likely do not have the intimate understanding of the medical issue at hand. Medical experts will generally address the questions of whether or not the defendant medical provider treated the patient with a certain standard of care. In answering this, experts will speak about how a reasonable, competent medical provider would have operated in the same situation in which the plaintiff was injured or died. This allows the jury to consider what the standard of care is in this situation, and if the doctor or hospital did meet it.

Experts will also address whether a doctor, nurse or hospital’s failure to meet that standard of care had some causal relationship to the injury suffered by the plaintiff. A jury must determine whether, based on all facts presented, the doctor ‘s failure to give proper care actually caused or partly caused the injury.

Legal Rules
Different states govern how evidence is handled at trial, and specifically how expert testimony is handled. In Illinois, Rule of Evidence 702 governs expert testimony. Rule 702 states that if “scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.” Such witnesses must also back up their testimony by showing that competent methodology or principle informed their opinions. Illinois has adopted what is widely known as the Frye test, named for another case that outlined the standard for expert opinion. Under Frye, courts must determine whether the information the expert relies on is “generally accepted by experts in the particular field in which it belongs.” While not the law everywhere, it is so in Illinois.

It is paramount for plaintiffs and defendants alike to understand the importance of expert witnesses. It is vital for parties to have competent expert medical witnesses with sufficient evidence and methodology to back up their opinions. It is equally vital for lawyers to be able to use their experts to properly support their arguments, and to challenge the opposing side’s experts as well.

See Related Blog Posts:

What is a Standard of Care in Medical Malpractice Claims?

Scary Statistics on Medical Malpractice

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