What Is the Role of a Medical Expert in a Malpractice Case?
Medical malpractice cases are highly technical, and the details of a diagnosis, treatment, medical error, or injury can easily go over the heads of a judge and jury. To make the case comprehensible, medical malpractice attorneys consult experts in the medical field. An expert witness must meet the statutory requirements set out in New Jersey Code 2A: 53A-41. The first task of the medical expert is to establish the basic elements of a medical malpractice claim:
- The applicable standard of care — Medical professionals have a duty to perform at a professional level. But how good is a healthcare provider required to be? What is the provider supposed to know? What procedures must the provider follow? What level of skill is a provider required to have?
- The defendant’s deviation from the standard of care — A medical professional breaches the duty to the patient when the standard of care they provide a patient is below an acceptable level. The expert must show an act or omission that a reasonably well-trained, reasonably careful healthcare provider would not have made.
- How the deviation caused the injury — A mistake that does no harm is not malpractice. The expert must demonstrate a causal link between the provider’s mistake and a negative consequence to the patient.
Having established what the law calls a prima facie case for malpractice, the expert must evaluate the extent of the patient’s injuries. This medical opinion helps an attorney determine what to claim for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, loss of quality of life, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of consortium. It also provides a medical basis for claims of future economic losses when a patient will likely need ongoing medical treatment and/or life assistance and will suffer negative career consequences.
The medical expert prepares a report that the plaintiff’s attorney can enter into evidence. The expert testifies to the contents of the report, and faces cross-examination from the defense. Naturally, the defense presents its own medical expert, who testifies in support of its case.
Medical experts are paid for their services, but this should not be interpreted as “pay for play.” A medical expert’s report and testimony are worthless if they only say what the lawyer wants said. When it comes to expert testimony, credibility is everything.
If you suspect you are the victim of medical malpractice, Seigel Law can help. Take advantage of a free consultation by calling 201.444.4000 or contacting our office online to set up an appointment with an experienced medical malpractice attorney.