Court Reduces Flexibility for Expert Witnesses in Malpractice Cases

Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

The case that brought about a long and complicated controversy involved a man who suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning after using a gas-powered saw in a basement.  He was rushed to the hospital and the man’s family doctor and an emergency room doctor recommended that the man be given 100 percent oxygen as well as medication to limit the damage that ingesting carbon monoxide had done to him.  Despite this treatment, the man suffered from brain damage and he sued the doctors for negligence.

The case was brought to trial and the plaintiff and his attorneys had an expert witness testify on his behalf.  This expert witness was an internist as well as an expert in providing treatment to patients in hyperbaric chambers.  The expert testified at trial that if the patient had been treated in this way, it was his opinion that the man would not have suffered brain damage or at least that the brain damage that he did suffer would not have been as severe.  Despite challenges from the defense at trial, the trial judge allowed the testimony.

The case was appealed and it eventually made its way to the New Jersey Supreme Court.  The court has ruled on the case, and it has decided to limit the areas of expertise that an expert witness can possess.  Specifically, the court ruled that the testimony of this expert witness at trial should not have been allowed because he did not possess an expert level of knowledge in serving as a family practitioner or as an emergency room attendant.  Therefore, his testimony was technically not relevant.

The decision has prompted a strong reaction from both sides of the issue.  Physician groups and defense attorneys praised the decision as fair, as they believe that expert witnesses should in fact have expertise in the same specific disciplines as the doctors being sued.  Such similar qualifications will make their testimony and their opinions more credible.

Trial attorneys and advocates for patients heavily criticized the decision, as they believe that it will make bringing medical malpractice lawsuits more difficult and more costly.  Many stated that medical malpractice lawyers would be less inclined to take on cases if finding the proper expert would become exceedingly difficult and if the cost of finding such an expert drove up litigation costs.

Expert witness testimony has always been a hot-button issue in medical malpractice trials.  This decision only adds to that intensity, as it could lead to doctors who have rare specialties to become less likely to be sued even if they are negligent in caring for a patient or patients.  That’s because finding expert witnesses could become all but impossible in some cases.

Regardless, people who have been injured in this manner need to do what they can to make sure that their voices are heard.  If you or someone you love has suffered because of this form of professional negligence, contact the New York medical malpractice lawyers at The Fitzgerald Law Firm today to schedule a free initial consultation.