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NJ Supreme Court issues ruling on witness' credentials

The New Jersey Supreme Court recently issued a ruling that doctors called as expert witnesses in medical malpractice cases must have the same qualifications as the defendant doctor. This ruling likely makes suing for medical malpractice more difficult in New Jersey. The case from which the ruling came involved a construction worker who suffered carbon monoxide poisoning while working in a basement. The physician attending to him recommended that he be treated with 100 percent oxygen, and the worker suffered brain damage as a result. The worker then sued for damages, alleging medical malpractice by the physician. An expert witness at the trial testified that the worker would not have suffered his injuries if the doctors had ordered him to be given oxygen in a hyperbaric chamber. The court ruled that because the witness did not specialize in emergency or family medicine, the trial judge should not have allowed her testimony, because she did not have the same specialty as the doctor.

This ruling provoked concern among some that it would be more difficult for plaintiffs to prevail in medical malpractice cases, and thus, it would impede people with valid claims from pressing them. There were also predictions that the requirement for similar specialties between the defendant and an expert witness would drive up the cost of litigation and place an artificial burden on plaintiffs.

In medical malpractice cases, hospitals may be liable for the wrongful acts of the physicians under the doctrine of respondeat superior. What this means is that the hospital may be liable for the tortious acts of doctors, provided that the act occurred when the doctor was acting within the scope of his or her employment. As a result, a physician's breach of a duty to the patient may result in liability for the hospital.

Any victim of medical malpractice is not only entitled to a personal injury judgment against the defendant, but also to an appropriate financial compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses incurred. The victims of medical malpractice are entitled to seek monetary damages from the defendant for their injuries. This is the justice that the victims are entitled to seek, and this process holds the defendant accountable for his or her actions as well.

Source: The Star-Ledger, "N.J. Supreme Court toughens rule on experts in medical malpractice cases," Susan K. Livio, April 26, 2013

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Gary D. Ginsberg is a Certified Civil Trial Lawyer who has been recognized as an expert in litigating cases in the courts of New Jersey.

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