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Who Are Expert Witnesses and Why Do You Need Them in Michigan Medical Malpractice Cases?

November 11, 2021

In medical malpractice actions in Michigan, attorneys must hire qualified medical practitioners to serve as expert witnesses. Because medical malpractice cases usually involve complicated health and medical issues, medical malpractice experts are asked to testify on the patient’s behalf to provide insight and answers about medical procedures, diagnoses, the standard of care, causation, and damages.

What is an Expert Witness?

A medical malpractice expert can be a physician, surgeon, nurse, or other licensed healthcare practitioner whose background, skills, experience, and expertise qualify him or her to provide opinions on a specific medical issue.

In a medical malpractice lawsuit, the attorneys call upon medical expert witnesses throughout the entire case – from initial investigation, through discovery, and at trial.

Why is a Medical Expert Witness Needed in a Medical Malpractice Case?

A medical malpractice expert offers opinions on how a medical professional was negligent in treatment of a patient. In a Michigan medical malpractice case, there are three elements that must be proven:

  • the breach of duty;
  • injury caused by the breach; and
  • damages.

A medical malpractice expert will state his or her independent expert opinion—based on the information provided in the case, such as medical records, lab results, witness testimony, and independent evaluations— as to whether the actions of the defendant(s) breached the standard of practice and caused the injuries.

What is the Standard of Care?

To be successful, a plaintiff who is alleging medical negligence must first establish the standard of care, and medical experts provide testimony on the standard of care of the defendant physician, facility, or healthcare staff. When using the term “professional negligence” or “malpractice” with respect to the defendant’s conduct, it is the failure to do something which an ordinary physician or other healthcare provider of ordinary learning, judgment or skill in this community or a similar one would do, or the doing of something which a physician or other healthcare provider of ordinary learning, judgment or skill would not do, under the same or similar circumstances you find to exist in a case.

The medical malpractice expert witness gives the jury some understanding into what a responsible, reasonable medical professional would’ve done in the same situation if they had adhered to the appropriate standard of care. For example, a medical malpractice expert witness can address the areas of medical concern that would have existed in the case, the appropriate type of lab tests and diagnostics they would typically implement, and a likely course of treatment that would align with the established standard of care in that community.

Next, the medical malpractice expert will opine as to how the doctor or medical facility breached the standard of care. The expert will testify as to how the defendant(s)’ negligence in adhering to the standard of care caused the patient’s injury.

How Does an Expert Help a Medical Malpractice Attorney Determine Causation and Damages?

In addition to assisting the plaintiff’s attorney in establishing the standard of care and breach of that standard by the defendant(s), a medical expert assists in proving causation and determining damages.

A causation expert is a healthcare professional who can opine on the cause of the injury. When assessing damages, a medical malpractice expert witness can explain the types of damages (economic and non-economic damages) the plaintiff seeks and an educated estimate of the amount based on the evidence and facts in the case.

What are the Qualifications for Medical Expert Witnesses in Michigan?

Michigan Statute § 600.2169(c)(1) states that if the medical malpractice expert is a general practitioner, in the year immediately before the date of the incident, the physician must have devoted a majority of his or her professional time to either or both as an active clinical practitioner and his or her instruction of medical students at an accredited school or residency/clinical research program in the same area of practice.

In addition, the statute states that in determining the qualifications of a medical malpractice expert, the court must, at a minimum, evaluate all of the following:

  • His or her educational and professional training;
  • His or her area of specialization;
  • The length of time the expert witness has been engaged in the active clinical practice or instruction of the health profession or the specialty; and
  • The relevancy of the expert witness’s testimony.

Contact us!

An expert witness is critical to the success of your medical malpractice claim.

For a free consultation with an experienced medical malpractice attorney in Michigan, contact Buchanan Firm. We can discuss your situation if you believe you’ve been injured as the result of an error in your medical treatment.

Our firm proudly serves people all across Michigan, including major cities like Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Detroit, Lansing, Holland, St. Joe, and Ann Arbor, and rural towns such as Lowell, Ada, Fremont, Newaygo, Grand Haven, Rockford, and Cedar Springs. We will meet you after-hours, at home or in the hospital to accommodate you.

Contact us today!