Connecticut Legislature Looking to Weaken Expert Witness Rules, Raise Medical Malpractice Insurance Rates

A bill currently in front of the Connecticut General Assembly, and championed by the trial lawyers lobby, intends to weaken the definition of an expert witness in medical malpractice lawsuits. If the requirements attached to expert testimony are weakened, it would likely have an inflationary effect on medical malpractice insurance rates for healthcare workers practicing in Illinois.

Tort reforms passed in 2005 required that a plaintiff’s expert witness in a medical malpractice pretrial inquiry be a “similar healthcare provider” to the defendant. In other words, if the defendant is a cardiologist, the plaintiff’s expert witness must also be a cardiologist.

The bill currently being considered by the Connecticut General Assembly would change the expert witness requirement from a “similar healthcare provider” to a “qualified healthcare provider.” The ambiguity of the term “qualified” would open the door to almost any physician being qualified to give expert testimony. No longer would expert testimony during a medical malpractice trial against a cardiologist be limited to that of a cardiologist. If passed, the bill would mandate that the testimony of a podiatrist be admissible in a malpractice trial where a patient died of a heart attack after visiting his or her cardiologist.

The 2005 reform also mandated that a plaintiff submit a written opinion as to the expert witnesses qualifications. The legislation being considered would make that requirement moot.

Expert witness requirements are a valuable tort reform when it comes to ensuring fairness in medical malpractice lawsuits. This is truth because the burden of proof in a medical malpractice lawsuit is that the defendant physician had violated the standard of care for the specialty the defendant practices. Only an expert witness practicing the same specialty in the same geographic area could actually be an expert as to the prevailing standard of care the defendant physician is operating under.

If the Connecticut General Assembly dilutes the state’s expert witness requirements in medical malpractice lawsuits, one can expect claims frequency to grow. Once claims frequency grows, medical malpractice insurance rates begin to swell. This is a road the Connecticut General Assembly doesn’t want to go down.