When handling a medical malpractice case, finding the right medical expert should be an attorney’s top priority. Medical treatment is considered negligent when it falls below the standard of care that would be exercised by a reasonably prudent medical professional and results in injury or death to the patient. Identifying the standard of care is critical in these cases, so a qualified medical expert witness is the key to proving a medical malpractice case. What should one look for in a medical malpractice expert witness?
The expert witness must testify about what another medical professional would do under the same or similar circumstances as those faced by the defendant in the case. By doing so, he or she will explain why that defendant’s behavior did not meet the appropriate standard of care. Board certification demonstrates that the expert witness’s own professional peers deem him or her so qualified as to be an expert among experts in that field. That sort of pre-qualified expert status is hard to refute.
As noted, it is not enough to simply describe the appropriate standard of care. To that end, experience is key. A good rule of thumb is to find an expert witness with at least 10 or more years of experience practicing in the same field as the defendant. This level of experience will show that the expert witness has mastered the field and experienced virtually every eventuality, including any that the defendant faced, on more than one occasion.
Another important consideration is whether the expert witness has been granted any academic appointments. Medical professionals chosen to teach others are usually top performers and well-respected for their knowledge in the field. Additional honors like holding a department chair or having published research papers or books on the subject of the witness’s testimony further cement that individual’s recognized status in the field as not just an expert, but one who sets the standards of competent performance by teaching it to others.
Technology and accepted practices change quickly and constantly, and only a medical professional who is still actively practicing can credibly speak to the impact of those changes on the standard of care for a fellow physician. A practicing physician can speak to what the defendant should have done based on the standard protocol, he or she can also testify as to what the medical professional does in that very situation on a daily basis.
A conflict of interest could either undermine the expert’s testimony or disqualify him or her from service as a witness all together.
Only by selecting the right medical malpractice expert witness can one assure a proper analysis of the case facts, a witness who can withstand the toughest scrutiny on the stand, and a medical professional capable of handling with ease even the most difficult questions about what the defendant should have done. While nobody can guarantee a result in a lawsuit, having the right medical malpractice expert witness will be the key to securing the best chances for victory for an attorney’s case and the best outcome for the client.
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