Expert Witnesses in Medical Malpractice Cases:
What You Need To Know

At Hoffer & Sheremet, we specialize in only two types of litigation: medical malpractice and legal malpractice. As a result, we have a stable of highly qualified expert witnesses that promptly review cases. We trust our experts to provide honest and candid reviews of the standard of care and causation. This allows us to provide our clients with a realistic assessment of their case. And when the time comes for deposition or trial, our carefully screened experts are ready so that your case has the best chance of success at trial or a high settlement. Read on to learn more about how important expert witness selection is in medical malpractice cases.

Expert witnesses are mandatory in medical malpractice cases.

Unlike other personal injury cases, such as auto accident or dog bite, which certainly may be enhanced by expert testimony, medical malpractice cases require expert testimony. See MCL 600.2912d.

An Affidavit of Merit signed by an expert witness must be filed with the Complaint. That means that your attorney will start looking for expert support very quickly after your case comes in the door. As tedious and expensive as this process may be, it ensures that by the time your case reaches the courthouse steps, it will have been thoroughly reviewed, and supported, by an expert witness.

Michigan has strict rules for expert witness qualifications.

To support a medical malpractice claim, your expert witness must meet specific requirements, including being a licensed health professional, and:

  • Practice in the same specialty as the defendant, if the defendant is a specialist. If the defendant is a specialist and is board certified in that specialty, your expert must match both of those criteria. For example, if the negligent physician is a board-certified urologist, your expert must also be a board-certified urologist.
  • Further, your board-certified urology expert must devote a majority of his or her professional time to the active clinical practice (or teaching) of “the specialty”. (So, in our example, the board-certified urologist would need to spend over half of his professional time either practicing or teaching urology.) See MCL 600.2169.

dictionary definition of expert witness

Similar rules apply if the healthcare provider is not a specialist, or board-certified. For example, in a nursing negligence case, a registered nurse is considered a general practitioner. He or she earned a degree in nursing, but has no specialty. The expert who testifies against the nurse must also have earned a degree in nursing, and devote a majority of his or her time to the active clinical practice (or teaching) of nursing.

Sometimes the plaintiff, or defendant, will challenge the qualifications of each other’s experts before trial. Because of this, it is very important for your attorney, at the outset of your case, to carefully choose an expert to support your claim. The following criteria should be considered by your attorney, and will certainly be considered by the Court when an expert’s qualifications have been challenged:

  • The expert’s educational and professional training
  • The expert’s area of specialization
  • The length of time the expert has been engaged in the active clinical practice (or instruction) of the health profession or specialty, and
  • The relevancy of the expert witness’s testimony. See MCL 600.2169.

calculator and notes

In addition to “standard of care experts,” as described above, most medical malpractice cases will be supported by other kinds of experts, including causation and damages. For example, if a registered nurse misread a physician order and administered an incorrect dosage of medication, a pharmacologist would likely be retained by your attorney to explain to a jury how the nurse’s negligence caused your injury. If your injury is severe enough that you can no longer work, or will require in-home nursing care for the remainder of your life, damages experts in the fields of economics and life-care planning may be hired to help the jury understand the loss of earnings over your working lifetime as well as the cost of your medical care into the future.

Expert Witness Review Process

First, our medical malpractice attorneys select the medical records that matter to your claim. We have state-of-the-art technology that allows us to send your medical records securely to your expert witnesses. This speeds up the review process and saves money on mailing.

Once the expert reviews your medical records, and agrees that the healthcare provider committed negligence, he or she will sign an Affidavit of Merit. The Affidavit must set forth 1) the applicable standard of care, 2) how the standard of care was breached, 3) the actions that should have been taken (or omitted) to comply with the standard of care, and 4) the manner in which the breach of the standard of care was the proximate cause of the injury. See MCL 600.2912d.

Why are experts so important?

In addition to being required by the law, many medical malpractice cases can turn into a “battle of the experts.” Just as plaintiffs are required to find expert support for their claims, so too are defendants to defend their care and treatment.

A well-qualified expert can make your case. A jury will hear where your experts went to school, where they trained, and where they work. But more important than being impressive on paper, it is the expert’s job to help the jury understand the medicine. A plaintiff’s expert witness must be an excellent teacher.

Finding and selecting the right experts is an important piece of a medical malpractice claim, one that should be considered long before your case is filed. To learn more about how our medical malpractice attorneys choose the right expert witness, contact Hoffer & Sheremet at 616.278.0888email us, or fill out our Free Consultation Form.