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State High Court Orders New Medical Malpractice Trial Following Expert Witness Comments

Each Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at our firm intimately understands the crucial role played by expert witnesses in Illinois medical malpractice trials. It is not an overstatement to state that the testimony of these witnesses often decide cases. It is no wonder why. Medical malpractice cases allege that a medical professional acted in a way contrary to what other reasonable medical professionals in the same specialty and geographic area would act. There is no better way to prove that point than by having another doctor explicitly explain how the care provided deviated from the proper standard.

Juries never hear one perspective, however. Understanding the crucial role played by these witnesses, defense teams always call their own expert witness to provide a different perspective. Whichever expert witness is most persuasive in any given case is usually the deciding factor in a case.

However, because of the important role played by these witnesses, it is crucial that provide standards of evidence and trial procedures are followed at all times. All American courtroom trials are guided by rules of evidence which dictate what information is relevant and appropriate to be heard and considered by a jury. When errors are made, it is necessary for appellate courts to fix the problem.

That is what happened following to a new state Supreme Court ruling out of Connecticut, according to the Hartford Courant. A new trial was ordered in a medical malpractice case based on inappropriate comments made by a defense medical expert in the case.

The initial lawsuit was filed by the family of a boy who was forced to undergo repeated spinal surgeries to fix back problems. His ordeal began, the family claims, because a doctor failed to take basic X-rays prior to an operation to remove a benign tumor. The mistake has had serious, long-term complications for the child.

The case went to trial and both sides called expert witnesses. The doctor called by the defense team argued that the surgical team acted according to accepted standards. Yet, the doctor didn’t just give this opinion. He went on to make extra statements that had nothing to do with the particular case or his opinion on the reasonableness of the doctor’s conduct. He noted that, “I live in the worst malpractice community in the world. And people-and we practice a lot of defensive medicine. It’s true. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true. And so we order way more tests.”

Of course, the implications of the comment was to convince the jury that because of malpractice cases doctors order more tests than they need to. Besides the dubious claims in general, there is absolutely no relevance to general claims about defensive medicine and the conduct of a doctor in a single case. But that is not all, the defense medical expert went on to explain say:

“You hear about the cost of medicine going up. We are at the epicenter of it because we have more doctors leaving because they can’t get insurance and things like that. So we order way more tests than are necessary to protect ourselves.”

The medical malpractice lawyer representing the plaintiff rightly called for a mistrial, because the comments were completely irrelevant to the case and had the clear ability to unfairly prejudice the jury. The mistrial motion was denied by the trial court, and the jury ultimately found for the defense. The plaintiff appealed and the appeal reached the highest court in the state. That court eventually reversed the judgment of the trial court and demanded a new trial.

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