The law requires a medical malpractice plaintiff to present the testimony of a qualified expert or face a directed verdict at the close of the case in chief. While the testimony of a defendant doctor in a medical malpractice case is important, the plaintiff attorney’s expert’s testimony is of equal, if not greater, significance. Therefore, the initial expert selection process is a critical element to a successful case, especially a medical malpractice case.
What Makes a Good Expert?
There are a host of variables that an attorney seeking an expert will need to consider, some more important than others.
Is the expert qualified?
The most obvious variable is whether the expert is truly qualified in both the legal and factual senses. In the medical malpractice plaintiff space that means a board certified expert must be in the same field as a board certified defendant. An expert’s credentials are typically found in their curriculum vitae, and often online. With these variables in mind, how do you go about finding, for example, the best pediatric gastroenterologist expert for your case? Some sources to consider when finding the best expert include:
- Personal experience
- Colleague references
- Online Expert Witness Services
- Medical School Websites (ex. The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine)
- Ads in legal publications
- Official organizations (ex. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists)
Some other variables to consider when selecting your expert are:
Is the expert willing to work?
The expert needs to be willing to read depositions, medical records and whatever else you choose to send to them. They must be able to analyze the material provided and be prepared to formulate opinions that are compatible with your theories of your case.
Does the expert believe in your case?
There are so many medical experts available to you. Of course, it is best if the expert you select already believes in the merits of your case before you hire them. That can often be ascertained by performing a search of the available medical literature that discusses the facts of your case at hand, authored or co-authored by your potential medical expert. This research should be conducted in primary sources, like peer reviewed medical journals, not a general search via Google. Always remember to check your sources!
Is the expert a good communicator?
Finally, it has been our experience that juries respond more to general notions of believability, simplicity and measured advocacy, rather than responding simply to credentials. Most juries don’t pay a lot of attention to a given expert’s credentials. The experts who can explain their opinions in a way that’s believable, communicated in easy to understand terms, and is able to calmly withstand intense cross-examination by opposing counsel, are the types of experts whose opinions are largely adopted by juries. If they can’t communicate their thoughts and opinions in a way a jury can understand, they may not be the expert for you.
A critical element to a case is selecting the highest quality expert (or multiple experts) for your medical malpractice case. Consulting with a seasoned attorney who has accumulated a contact list of various experts, in various fields of medicine, and has established trusted relationships with those experts, allows the best opportunity for a successful outcome. If you are dealing with a medical malpractice case and would like to discuss your options, please contact Jim Haliczer or any member of our Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm legal team.