Use of Expert Testimony Questioned in Malpractice

Side Note: this article highlights the results of a study that examined expert witnesses in medical malpractice cases.  The researchers found that an expert witness in a lawsuit against a radiologist testified that the original doctor should have recognized a fracture in a CT scan, but 31 out of 31 other radiologists who examined the scan failed to recognize the tiny fracture.  This result strongly suggests that the expert witness’ testimony was not consistent with the accepted standard of care.  This type of situation is common in malpractice trials, since expert witnesses are paid by the plaintiff and feel pressure to deliver the opinion that helps the plaintiff’s case.  Reform to the expert witness system is an important aspect of tort reform that is not discussed often enough.  At the very least, there should be more stringent qualifications for expert witnesses, and they should be allowed to testify only in their area of expertise.  A more sweeping reform might be a system of blind peer review in which the cost of paying the expert is shared by the plaintiff and the defendant.

by Christopher Wanjek

A new study calls to the stand the legitimacy of expert witnesses, those doctors and other medical specialists hired by lawyers in medical malpractice suits to convince the jury that someone somewhere goofed.

The study, published in the August issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology, implies that you get what you pay for — which is a good thing for malpractice lawyers, who can hire those experts who deliver the “right” answer or who benefit from hindsight in their medical interpretations.

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