What kinds of experts will I need for my medical malpractice claim?
Why we need experts in medical malpractice claimsWhen you are involved in a motor vehicle accident, and the person who hit you ran a red light, you won't have to hire an expert to prove that other driver was negligent, because a jury of lay people will understand that--they know what the rules of the road are. But when we sue a professional, such as a physician, the issues are not so easily understood, and we must bring in experts to help the jury understand what occurred, and how the physician's conduct caused an injury.
In order to prove a medical negligence case, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the physician made a treatment decision that no reasonable physician would have made under the same or similar circumstances. That unreasonable action by the physician is called a breach of the standard of care. Plaintiff must also show how the standard of care violation caused their injury, and must show what their injury is worth, in dollars. Experts are needed for all of these elements.
Liability--Expert(s) to Describe How the Doctor Breached the Standard of CareAs a rule, the person being sued can only be criticized by an expert in the same field of specialty with the same or similar credentials. If the defendant is a physician board certified in general surgery, then the expert retained to criticize his care must also be a board certified general surgeon. There are a few exceptions to this general rule, but only a few.
If the person being sued is a nurse, then the plaintiff must retain a similarly qualified nurse to render opinions about the defendant's error(s). It is not uncommon to have more than one defendant in a medical malpractice claim, and, when this happens, the plaintiff will need a standard of care expert qualified to comment on each one. This may require hiring multiple experts to discuss the standard of care applicable to each defendant and how that standard was breached (broken).
Causation--Expert(s) to Describe How the Mistake Caused the InjuryAdditional experts will likely be required to discuss how the defendant's actions caused the plaintiff's injury. Consider the example of the defendant who is a family doctor who prescribed the wrong medication to a patient, and the patient had a bad reaction to the medication and suffered a stroke as a result. In that case, the plaintiff will need a family doctor with similar credentials as the defendant to explain why the prescription was wrong, and may also need to hire a neurologist to explain the stroke, and a pharmacologist to explain the mechanism underlying how the medication caused the stroke. The plaintiff may also need other specialists to explain various other aspects of the causal link between the doctor's mistake and the injury that resulted. Sometimes the doctor testifying about the standard of care can also talk about causation, but this is not the ordinary scenario. Most of the time, plaintiff will need multiple experts to cover these various issues.
Damages--the Life Care PlannerOne of the main goals of a medical negligence lawsuit is to obtain funds that can be used to provide future medical care the plaintiff needs as a result of their injury.
Economic damages are the things that we can put a price on--medical needs, lost wages, lost ability to work. Plaintiffs with permanent injury requiring future care will usually need to hire an expert called a Life Care Planner. This expert will calculate the cost, in dollars, of providing all the care Plaintiff will need going forward (life care plan).
Damages-- the EconomistAn economist is also hired to calculate the value of past and future medical bills and lost wages. The economist also takes the life care plan and calculates, accounting for inflation and interest earnings over time, its net present value. That is, how much we would money need to put into the bank today in order to pay, over the plaintiff's lifetime, for all the care detailed in the life care plan.
The Life Care Planner and Economist work together to create a picture of how much the Plaintiff's claim is worth, in today's dollars. However, it is important to note that neither of these experts adds any compensation for the plaintiff's pain and suffering.