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What Role Do Expert Witnesses Play in Medical Malpractice Claims?

April 1, 2024

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When a bad outcome happens in medicine, whether it’s after a doctor prescribes a prescription drug or a surgeon completes an operation, it’s common for patients to wonder if they’re victims of medical malpractice. However, proving medical malpractice is notoriously difficult. That’s why many Ohio medical malpractice lawyers rely on the testimony of expert witnesses.

These highly skilled people have specialized knowledge and experience which are pivotal in determining liability in medical malpractice cases. For victims seeking justice through the legal system, understanding the function and significance of expert witnesses is crucial.

Who Is Allowed to Serve as an Expert Witness?

In Ohio, not just any expert can testify in a medical malpractice case.

The law requires that these professionals work in the same or a similar specialty as the defendant, ensuring they have up-to-date knowledge of the standard of care relevant to the case at hand. Their expertise enables them to scrutinize the actions of the healthcare provider from a position of informed authority.

What Kind of Healthcare Professionals Are Called to Serve as Expert Witnesses?

In a medical malpractice case, a lawyer might consult various types of expert witnesses depending on the specific aspects of the case. These experts not only provide testimony regarding the standard of care and whether it was breached, but they also offer insights into the causation and damages resulting from the alleged malpractice.

Here are several types of expert witnesses commonly consulted in medical malpractice cases:

  • Specialized Medical Doctors: These are physicians or surgeons who can offer insights into the standard of care expected within their specialty, whether it was adhered to, and the implications of any deviations. For instance, a cardiologist or cardiothoracic surgeon might be consulted for a case involving alleged malpractice in heart surgery.
  • Nurses or Nurse Practitioners: Experts in nursing care can provide perspective on the standard nursing practices, patient care protocols, and whether the nursing staff acted appropriately
    under the circumstances.
  • Pharmacists: In cases involving medication errors, such as prescribing the wrong dosage or incorrect or incompatible medications, pharmacists can explain the effects of medications on the body and the potential harm caused by the errors.
  • Medical Examiners or Pathologists: These experts can offer insights into the causes of injuries or death following potentially negligent medical treatment, helping to establish a link between the malpractice and the harm suffered by the patient.
  • Rehabilitation Specialists: For cases where the patient has suffered long-term disability, rehabilitation experts can testify about the patient’s rehabilitation needs, the potential for recovery, and the costs associated with long-term care.
  • Mental Health Professionals: Psychologists or psychiatrists may be consulted to discuss the emotional and psychological impact of the malpractice on the patient, including cases involving wrongful death, where the surviving family members may suffer emotional distress.
  • Healthcare Administrators: To address issues related to hospital policies, patient safety protocols, and healthcare management practices, these experts can provide insight into whether the healthcare facility adhered to the appropriate standards and protocols.

The choice of expert witnesses depends on the complexities of the medical malpractice case, the nature of the alleged malpractice, and the specific issues at hand.

How Do Expert Witnesses Contribute in Medical Malpractice Cases?

Many questions must be answered in medical malpractice claims, and expert witnesses can play major roles in answering those questions or providing more clarity for judges and juries.

Some of their important contributions include:

  • Clarifying Standard of Care: Expert witnesses elaborate on the expected level of care in similar circumstances. They outline the procedures, decisions, and treatments that a competent healthcare provider would have applied, helping jurors understand the norms for safe and effective medical practice.
  • Establishing Breach of Duty: By comparing the defendant's actions to the standard of care, experts can highlight deviations that may constitute negligence. Their analysis is critical in establishing a direct link between the healthcare provider's conduct and the alleged malpractice.
  • Assessing Causation: Proving that the breach of duty directly resulted in harm to the patient is a cornerstone of medical malpractice claims. Expert witnesses analyze the patient's condition, treatments administered, and outcomes to determine whether the defendant's actions or inactions were a significant factor in causing the patient's injury or worsening condition.
  • Evaluating Damages: Experts play a vital role in quantifying the impact of medical malpractice on a patient's life. This includes assessing physical and psychological damages, future medical needs, loss of earnings, and other repercussions of the malpractice. Their testimony can be pivotal in ensuring that compensation reflects the true extent of the harm suffered.

Are Expert Witnesses Only Used when Medical Malpractice Cases Go to Trial?

Expert witnesses play a crucial role not only during trials but also throughout various stages of a medical malpractice claim. Their involvement is pivotal for several reasons beyond providing testimony in court.

Here’s how expert witnesses contribute at different phases of a medical malpractice case:

Pre-Litigation Evaluation

Before a lawsuit is even filed, expert witnesses may be consulted to assess the merits of a potential claim. In Ohio, injured patients are required to obtain an expert affidavit or a certificate of merit to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. This document, prepared by an expert witness, asserts that the claim has a basis in fact, indicating that the healthcare provider's actions likely deviated from the accepted standards of medical care.

Discovery Phase

During the discovery phase, expert witnesses help interpret medical records, test results, and other relevant documents. They assist in formulating questions for depositions and may be deposed by the opposing legal team. Their analysis can uncover critical details that strengthen the patient's case or identify weaknesses that need to be addressed.

Settlement Negotiations

Many medical malpractice claims are settled out of court, and expert witnesses play a significant role in these negotiations. By clearly articulating the medical and financial consequences of the malpractice, expert witnesses can help patients get fair settlements.


If a medical malpractice claim proceeds to trial, expert witnesses are often called upon to testify before a jury or judge. They can explain complex medical terminology, procedures, and standards of care in an understandable manner, helping to establish whether the defendant breached the standard of care and whether that breach caused the patient's injuries.

Our Ohio Medical Malpractice Lawyers Have the Right Connections to Win Your Case

Expert witnesses are often essential for medical malpractice claims, but not all firms have access to them—or know what makes an expert witness convincing, thorough, and knowledgeable.

At Nurenberg, Paris, Heller & McCarthy, we’re proud to have longstanding connections with highly respected and accomplished medical professionals throughout Ohio who help serve as expert witnesses in our clients’ medical malpractice cases.

If you or someone you love was harmed by a doctor, surgeon, or other provider, we want to hear your story. Contact our Ohio medical malpractice attorneys today for a free consultation.

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