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Who can testify as an expert in a medical malpractice case?
Recently, the Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled that physicians called as expert witnesses on behalf of a patient in a medical malpractice case must have the same qualifications as the doctors that are defendants in the particular matter.
The case behind this decision concerned a New Jersey contractor, who suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning after using a saw operated by gas in a confined space. Doctors at a South Jersey hospital – an emergency room physician and attending doctor – recommended that the harmed individual be treated with medication and 100 percent oxygen. Subsequent to treatment, the patient suffered brain damage and other injures. The contractor ultimately sued for medical negligence.
In the case, an expert witness from the plaintiff’s side was an internist who specialized in hyperbaric medicine. The doctor testified that the harm experienced by the injured contractor would not have been as life threatening had the treating physicians ordered that the patient receive the oxygen inside a hyperbaric chamber. Moreover, the witness noted that there were mixed medical philosophies concerning treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning at the time of the incident.
Ruling from the Supreme Court
When the case reached the Supreme Court of New Jersey, it ruled that the trial judge should have never permitted the internist’s testimony. Specifically, the plaintiff’s expert was not familiar with emergency room medicine or family medicine. The doctors in question held different specialties.
While the court acknowledged that the doctor was experienced in treating carbon monoxide poisoning, it noted that the Patients First Act of 2004 forbids a physician from testifying about the “standard of care exercised” by a doctor practicing in area of expertise that varies from the defendants.
Expert testimony in the future
While experts testifying on behalf of a plaintiff will have to meet specific prerequisites in the future, the good news is that only meritorious cases should move forward, and plaintiffs should not experience too much difficulty in securing a relevant and sufficient expert.
Many medical malpractice cases involve a thorough analysis of medical evidence and procedure. For this reason, it is not surprising that New Jersey mandates very specific requirements of experts in such cases. The assessment of liability often turns on a professional’s explanation of the appropriate standard of care.
If you believe that you were harmed as a result of medical negligence, take the time to speak to a qualified medical malpractice attorney in your area. A professional lawyer has solid knowledge of evidentiary rules and can help ensure that your case is backed by expert testimony, which is in accordance with the law.