A medical malpractice expert witness offers professional opinions during litigation involving malpractice lawsuits. Experts range from all fields in the medical spectrum, including nurses, physical therapists, and surgeons. Both plaintiffs and defendants commonly employ the use of experts to determine if a medical professional’s actions or lack of action led to negative consequences in a patient’s care.
In order to qualify, a medical malpractice expert witness must reach high standards set by the courts. These standards vary with regional or local standards, though they typically include proving sufficient knowledge, education, and adequate experience. A more stringent qualification process held by US federal courts, and several US state courts, involves a judge determining whether or not a witness qualifies as an expert. The high standards in US courts derive from three US Supreme Court cases: Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, General Electric Co. v. Joiner, and Kurmine Tire Co. v. Carmichael. As a result of these rulings, the US Supreme Court determined expert witness’ opinion must fall into general acceptance within the scientific community.
A number of companies offer the services of expert witnesses. Expert firms often employ a large number of experts from various fields. Often paid handsomely for their services, a medical malpractice expert witness offers their knowledge in various fields including but not limited to chemistry, forensics, and psychiatry.
A medical malpractice expert witness can serve as one of the most important factors in determining the outcome of a case. While many pieces of evidence can be refuted, such as eyewitness testimony, proven scientific fact provides solid evidence. The role of the experts depends largely on legislation governing courtroom procedures in various jurisdictions. In the US, medical experts are often called by both plaintiffs and defendants. This method suffers from criticism because of the inherent contradiction of two experts determining different interpretations from solid data. In some places, such as England and Wales, expert witnesses are required to remain neutral.
Medical experts normally receive payment for the amount of hours they spend reviewing evidence and for their time on the witness stand. Payment usually comes in an hourly rate with a minimum hour amount, even if the witness spends less than the minimum testifying. The responsibility of payment generally falls on the party that calls upon the witness’ services. Both the courts and the scientific community require medical experts to provide unbiased and impartial testimony when called upon to share their expertise. As professionals and citizens, experts are expected to provide accurate testimony in the interests of justice and the preservation of their professions.