A fundamental factor in proving medical negligence is determining whether the defendant has breached a standard of care owed to the plaintiff. Generally, the standard of care is what a reasonable and prudent person would exercise in a similar situation. The exact method an attorney utilizes in determining his or her selection of a physician, or physician assistant as an expert witness is unique. Some attorneys may choose only experts within their locale, others may often have a preference for experts familiar with the process and many consult colleagues for recommendations on experts whose services they have utilized. Real know-how involves experience combined with knowledge ultimately translated into being convincing to a jury and able to truly advise the retained counsel. Equally important in retaining an expert is the ability to provide the attorney with a strong commitment to a thorough review and the ability to communicate effectively during deposition and trial testimony.
Courts have relied on the testimony of physicians and physician assistants as expert witnesses to establish the required standard of care in a specific situation and whether that standard of care has been met. Physicians have a responsibility to help with the administration of justice and it is in the best interest of the public that expert medical testimony be not only objective and impartial but also readily available. The probability of achieving fair outcomes in medical liability suits will be enhanced if certain guidelines concerning physician expert witnesses and the testimony of physician assistants are followed.
In a medical liability case, the physician expert witness’ responsibility to impart complete, unbiased information to help authorities determine whether the accused physician was medically negligent and caused the plaintiff to suffer injury and/or damages that warrant monetary compensation. The testimony presented by the physician expert witness should reflect the generally accepted standards within his specific area of practice to the greatest possible extent.
All physician expert witnesses should meet the minimum previously determined qualifications. The physician expert witness is required to have an unrestricted license to practice medicine and should be fully trained in the medial specialty or area of practice relevant to the topic about which he is testifying. The physician expert witness should have clinical experience in the same area about which he is testifying and during the two years prior to the action or actions leading to the lawsuit, the physician expert witness should be active in clinical practice in the same area about which he is testifying.
Retaining a physician assistant expert has become more involved than in years past, when the majority of physician assistants were employed in outpatient primary care and specialty employment was rare. Maintaining a generalist physician assistant would fulfill the legal definition for an expert witness. But with the dawn of postgraduate physician assistant residencies and the extension of the physician assistant into every specialty in medicine the attorney may need to specifically look for a physician assistant specializing in a specific discipline.