Who Serves as an Expert Witness in Medical Malpractice Cases?

By nature, medical malpractice claims involving dense medical concepts and complex allegations that a doctor failed to apply those concepts appropriately under the specific circumstances a patient experienced. Needless to say, expecting the average jury member to understand the issues at play in this kind of case to the same extent a medical professional would is very often unreasonable.

For this reason, determining who will serve as an expert witness in your medical malpractice case is often a crucial preliminary step towards maximizing available compensation. Experienced malpractice attorneys can explain state-specific requirements for expert witnesses and potentially direct plaintiffs towards dependable experts they have worked with during previous claims.

Prerequisites for “Medical Experts” in Malpractice Litigation

Every U.S. state establishes slightly different criteria for who may serve as an expert witness for the purposes of malpractice litigation and exactly what steps they must take to affirm the validity of a claim. However, there are some general rules that are common across most jurisdictions.

First and foremost, an expert witness must be experienced in the specific field of medicine in which the defendant(s) in the malpractice claim practices. In many states, the witness must be licensed to practice and have actually worked in the same field fairly recently, although sometimes this requirement can be met through a combination of academic and practical experience, or simply through board certification of some kind.

Second, the expert witness must have an up-to-date idea of what constitutes safe and reasonable care under circumstances like those the defendant was presented with. For example, if a malpractice claim names an emergency room physician as the defendant, it may be necessary to solicit expert testimony from a doctor who has also worked in an ER and understands what normal standards of care are for such a hectic and high-stress environment.

Likewise, a case based on an error by a specialist who has knowledge and training in a very specific area of medicine may require expert testimony from another specialist in the exact same field. Sometimes, it might be necessary to bring in multiple experts to ensure the judge and jury members overseeing a case get the clearest idea possible of what went wrong and who specifically was responsible for it.

Are Expert Witnesses Always Necessary?

It is rare for a malpractice plaintiff to achieve a successful case result without input from at least one medical expert witness, especially in states that generally require affidavits of merit to be filed alongside initial complaints. However, there are rare circumstances under which it may not be necessary to enlist help from an expert witness at all.

Specifically, if the defendant doctor and/or their staff were the only parties who had control over the circumstances leading to the plaintiff’s injury, and if there was no other conceivable cause for that injury except for a breach in the applicable standard of care by that doctor and/or their staff, medical expert testimony may not be mandatory to building a comprehensive case. However, it is rarely wise to assume this will be true of any type of claim, and it is always best to discuss potential strategies for litigation with a seasoned medical malpractice lawyer first.