Standard of Care and Requirement of Expert Testimony
As indicated above, generally, expert testimony is required to prove the doctor breached the applicable standard of care. This is because such matters are thought to be outside the scope of knowledge of the average juror. It goes without saying that the expert must be competent in the field in which his/her opinion is offered.
In order to examine the role played by the physician/expert, it is first important to understand the duties of a physician. While each state varies in the wording employed in jury instructions, a typical instruction dealing with a physician’s duty reads as follows:
- “In performing professional services for a patient, a physician has the duty to have that degree of learning and skill ordinarily possessed by reputable physicians, practicing in the same or similar locality and under similar circumstances. The further duty of the physician is to use the care and skill ordinarily exercised in like cases by reputable members of the profession practicing in the same or similar locality under similar circumstances, and to use reasonable diligence and his or her best judgment in the exercise of skill and the application of learning, in an effort to accomplish the purpose for which the physician is employed.
- “The failure to fulfill any such duty is negligence.”
[BAJI 6.00.1 (8th Ed.)]
It is the expert witness that informs the jury and court, among other things, what the alleged errant doctor did, or omitted to do, which varied from the minimal standards accepted by reputable members of the profession.
Additionally, the expert witness often provides the court and jury with vital information as to causation. In other words, the expert opines that as a result of the physician’s acts or omissions (which fell below the standard of care) the plaintiff sustained injuries of a particular nature. The expert explains how the errant doctor’s acts and omissions caused the injury sustained by plaintiff. Lastly, the expert should shed light on the damages sustained by plaintiff.
A good expert distills complicated medical terminology into easy to understand concepts and principles. This is not to suggest that the expert “runs the trial” in a medical malpractice action. Far more is involved. However, the expert does play an important role.
If you or someone you know has been injured as the result of medical malpractice or professional negligence, you need the assistance of the Scarlett Law Group. Call (415) 688-2176 today to speak with a California Personal Injury Attorney.