Expert Witnesses: Calling in Medical Professionals to Testify in a Case

When there are technical aspects to a case, legal teams usually call upon an expert witness to the court. These expert witnesses that help shed light on a situation. They can explain the processes and procedures of a technical field, like engineering and medicine, so that laypeople understand them.

Because of their expertise, the judge and jury members give weight to an expert witness’s words.

One of the most common types of expert witnesses is a medical expert.

When Does a Case Need a Medical Expert?

A medical expert witness can be required to stand in court for a variety of cases and claims. Lawyers often request for a medical expert in:

  1. Medical Malpractice Claims: The expert can help determine if the injury or death happened because of the incompetence or negligence of the healthcare facility, physician, or staff.
  2. Personal Injury Claims: The attorney of a victim of brain injury or physical incapacity would need an expert to prove that the injury requires compensation for physical, mental, and emotional suffering.
  3. Workers Compensation Claims: Epidemiologists and toxicologists can provide insights into the detrimental health effects caused by a victim’s working conditions.
  4. Criminal and Insanity Defense: Medical experts can be called to assess if a criminal defendant is legally competent to stand trial or enter an insanity defense.
  5. Determining Cause of Death: In the case of homicide, murder, or wrongful death, a forensic pathologist can be summoned to determine the cause of death.

When Is a Medical Expert Not Necessary?

A medical expert might not be necessary when it’s evident that the jury can understand the facts. For example, the surgeon leaving a foreign object inside the patient is a clear case of negligence.

Other cases when expert testimony isn’t necessary to include:

  • When the doctor or medical staff had control over the cause of the injury
  • The injury or death could have been caused by the doctor or medical staff’s failure to follow the standard of care

medical expert

What Happens in a Testimony?

The defendant and the plaintiff must have their medical expert before the start of the trial. Either side must reveal the substance of their testimony and intent to have an expert witness called to the stand before the court’s deadline. Otherwise, the court will decide in the case in the other party’s favor.

Once the medical expert is called to court, they can provide testimonies and visual aid to explain various parts of a claim. These include:

  • How a procedure should be performed
  • Explanations of medications and treatments
  • Description of an injury or medical condition
  • The repercussions of an injury or death to the victim and their family

Qualifications of a Medical Expert Witness

Federal Rule of Evidence 702 states that an expert witness must have the education, knowledge, and skill to help the judge and jury understand the matters of a case.

The qualifications of a medical expert witness depend per state. In some states, a physician doesn’t have to be a licensed medical professional to become an expert witness. However, the witness must show they have the professional knowledge and skill to speak about the case. In other states, the expert witness must be practicing their specialty for a certain number of years.

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