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The Role of Expert Witnesses in Medical Malpractice Cases

Gavel and Stethoscope on Reflective Wooden Table.

Expert witnesses form the crux of many legal matters, especially when it comes to medical malpractice. Having a qualified, effective medical expert on your trial team can be the difference between a large payout and having the case dropped entirely. Below, we discuss the role of the medical expert in a medical malpractice case. If you are pursuing or defending against a medical malpractice case, call a qualified medical expert for advice and assistance.

Investigating and Advising on Potential Claims

A medical expert can help outside the courtroom as much as inside the courtroom. If your client believes that they may have been injured by way of malpractice, a seasoned medical expert can help you investigate the merits of their potential claim. The expert can review medical records, examine the client, and review other relevant evidence to determine whether malpractice did take place or might have taken place. The expert can help you identify sources of relevant evidence if more is needed to prove your claim. Knowing whether you have a claim, what the claim may be worth, and how best to prove your claim can be just as important as drafting the actual expert report in the matter.

Forming the Basis of a Right to Sue

Depending upon your jurisdiction, if you plan to sue for medical malpractice, you might need to retain the services of a qualified expert before you even set foot in the courtroom. As a means to limit the prevalence of frivolous malpractice lawsuits, many states have enacted laws requiring plaintiffs’ lawyers to obtain a sworn statement from a medical expert asserting that the defendant committed malpractice before the lawsuit can even be filed. This is commonly known as an “affidavit of merit” or a “certificate of merit.”

Some states require the certificate of merit to be filed alongside the initial complaint. Others require the certificate to be filed within a certain time frame after the lawsuit is commenced. Some courts will hold an initial hearing on the adequacy of the certificate of merit. Make sure you know the requirements of your jurisdiction before filing so as not to lose out on your chance to file your claim.

Proving Malpractice Did or Did Not Occur

Medical malpractice cases often resolve on the basis of expert witness testimony, the “battle of the experts.” If you are the plaintiff, you’ll need a qualified medical expert to review your medical records and evaluate the symptoms you presented, the conduct of all medical professionals involved, and the injury or illness you eventually faced, in order to demonstrate whether the defendants’ conduct deviated from the standard of care expected of them.

If you are the defendant, you’ll be fighting those assertions. Your expert witness will offer evidence and opinion demonstrating the soundness of the medical care provided given the circumstances of the patient and the information available at the time.

Experts will provide written expert opinions, face depositions, and eventually testify in court on these and other matters. Ultimately, if the case goes to trial, the judge or jury will assess whether malpractice occurred in large part based on the credibility of the expert witnesses on each side.

Proving the Extent or Limitations of the Damage Caused

In addition to proving whether or not malpractice actually occurred, expert witnesses are integral in proving both causation and damages. A medical expert can help the plaintiff demonstrate that, for example, the initial failure to diagnose led to subsequent complications, which have resulted in a more debilitating condition overall. The expert’s testimony can both serve to tie the malpractice to the plaintiff’s maladies, provide an estimation of the costs to treat those maladies, and opine on the pain and limitations caused by the resulting injury or illness.

On the defense side, an expert witness can be used to cut the line between the alleged malpractice and the harm ultimately suffered, pointing to other intervening factors and separate causes. The expert can provide a more tampered estimate of the potential damages, helping to come to a reasonable settlement offer or to dissuade the jury from awarding exorbitant sums.

If you need a qualified, convincing, and effective witness in a personal injury, medical malpractice, or product liability case, contact the offices of Neurosurgery Medlegal Services, LLC, at 866-659-8051.

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