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How Do I Become a Medical Malpractice Expert Witness?

Article Details
  • Written By: Renee Booker
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2019
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Medical malpractice is a type of professional tort claim based on a negligent act or omission by a healthcare provider — usually a physician. When a patient files a lawsuit for medical malpractice, expert testimony may be necessary to prove his or her case against the provider. Court rules regarding who may become a medical malpractice expert witness may vary by jurisdiction. Within the United States, in order to become a medical malpractice expert witness, a potential witness must have the necessary educational background along with a significant amount of substantiated experience in the field in which he or she plans to testify. Additionally, anyone who plans to become a medical malpractice expert witness in the United States should be generally regarded as an expert in the field by his or her peers.

Unlike other types of negligent tort claims which look at what would have been a reasonable amount of care used by the defendant, a medical malpractice claim looks at what are the accepted standards of care in the medical specialty or medical community relevant to the case. For this reason, medical experts are almost always required to testify in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Frequently, an expert will testify regarding what actually happened to the plaintiff, or person who filed the lawsuit, and yet another expert may testify regarding what the healthcare provider failed to do or did wrong.

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Anyone who plans to become a medical malpractice expert witness should begin by completing the education necessary to become a physician or nurse, in most cases. Most medical malpractice cases are filed against a physician; however, lawsuits are also filed against nurses or other providers. As experts are almost always needed to testify as to what the accepted standards are within the area of practice, the expert should be educated within the field in which he or she plans to testify. A nursing degree frequently takes four years of undergraduate school, with most experts who testify regarding the nursing profession having a master's degree or higher. Physicians must complete undergraduate school, medical school, and a residency before practicing medicine.

Aside from the basic educational requirements, anyone who aspires to become a medical malpractice expert witness will need to have a significant amount of experience not only just in the medical profession, but also in the particular area of specialty that is the subject of the lawsuit. For example, if the plaintiff was a dermatology patient, then an expert would need to have experience in the specialty of dermatology. A reputation within the profession itself as an expert is also helpful, if not specifically required. Anyone who is published in his or her field of expertise or teaches at the university level is more likely to be qualified as an expert witness. Ultimately, the court will decide if a potential witness qualifies as an expert after examination under oath regarding his or her credentials and experience.

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