What Should You Consider When Selecting An Expert Witness In A Malpractice Trial?

20 October 2017
 Categories: Law, Blog

If you've filed a complaint of medical malpractice against the hospital, doctor, or nurse whose negligence led to an ongoing physical injury, you may be wondering what you'll need to do to ensure your claim makes it to a jury. Often, the success of your claim can depend on a factor as seemingly minor and subjective as the degree of credibility of your expert witness. Without a trustworthy, knowledgeable doctor or medical professional to testify that the defendant breached the standard of care and caused your injury, you may not have enough to convince a jury of the defendant's guilt. Read on to learn more about some of the factors you'll want to consider when choosing an expert witness to present testimony at your medical malpractice trial.

Why Is Expert Witness Selection So Important?

To prevail on a medical malpractice claim, you'll need to conclusively establish a couple of factors. First, you'll have to show that the defendant owed you a duty of care, which can usually be established by demonstrating that the defendant was your physician or another healthcare provider. 

Next, you'll need to show that this duty of care was breached, and finally, that this breach directly caused your injury. For example, a physician's failure to order follow-up testing after an irregular test result, leading to a delayed diagnosis that has permanent health-related consequences, could be deemed malpractice; the physician's action (or inaction, in this case) set the ball rolling on your injury.

In order to establish the latter two factors, many plaintiffs rely on the testimony of an expert witness: a doctor or other medical professional who can affirmatively state the standard of care and then provide an opinion on whether the defendant's actions met or failed to meet this standard. In most cases, the defendant will offer up his or her own expert witness, who may have a competing opinion; the jury is then tasked with the decision of whose witness is the most credible.

What Factors Should You Consider? 

Because credibility is a key consideration when selecting an expert witness, you'll want to keep a few factors in mind. 

The first is your expert's presentation. In addition to being well-groomed and neat in appearance, your expert witness should speak clearly, in an easy-to-understand way, minimizing the use of medical jargon that may leave the jury confused. Your expert witness should also have some experience or training in civil procedure, knowing when to answer "I don't know" rather than being led down a path of questioning that may harm your claim, and knowing when not to volunteer certain information.

You'll also want to consider the full scope of your witness's testimony. If your witness has waffled or wavered at all in his or opinion on the defendant's actions, this testimony may be used to impeach the credibility of the witness. Sometimes, it may be necessary to enlist a new expert witness to eliminate the impact of bad deposition testimony. Contact local medical malpractice attorneys for more information and assistance.