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The Role of Expert Witnesses in Florida Malpractice Claims

February 10, 2024 Legal Team
doctor putting on glove with the caption: "the role of expert witnesses in medical malpractice cases"

Expert witnesses play an important role in many types of personal injury cases, such as accident reconstruction experts in a car accident case, but never are expert witnesses as integral to a case as they are in medical malpractice cases in Florida and elsewhere. If a malpractice case goes to trial rather than resolving with a settlement, neither the judge nor the typical jury members are doctors, yet the court tasks them with deciding whether or not a medical provider deviated from the standard of care accepted by the medical community. An expert witness in a medical malpractice claim in Florida helps the court to understand the medical nuances of the case presented by both sides so they have the tools they need to deliberate knowledgeably on their decision in the case. Medical malpractice attorneys in Sarasota and Bradenton from Shapiro | Delgado | Hofmann use these experts to get the justice you deserve. Contact us for your free, no-obligation consultation today!

What is an Expert Witness in a Malpractice Case in Florida?

An expert witness in any court case is an individual the court accepts as having specialized knowledge in the area being decided in the case. In medical malpractice cases, expert witnesses are most often doctors who are highly respected in their fields, or other relevant medical professionals. Often, both the plaintiff and the defendant’s attorneys retain expert witnesses to present evidence and testimony supporting their cases. The expert witnesses in a medical malpractice case have a significant impact on the jury’s decision and the outcome of the trial.

What Role Does an Expert Witness Play in a Florida Medical Malpractice Case?

Civil cases like medical malpractice claims have a burden of proof that’s different from that required in criminal cases. Rather than proving a case “beyond reasonable doubt” the plaintiff—an injury victim or their family in a medical malpractice case—must prove the defendant liable by a “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning effectively showing that it’s more likely than not that the medical provider caused the injury, or that it’s more plausible that they did cause the injury than they did not.. Expert witnesses play a central role in meeting that burden of proof in three ways:

  • Establishing the standard of care the medical community applies to the victim’s case
  • Providing a knowledgeable opinion on whether or not the provider deviated from that standard of care
  • Providing an opinion on whether or not the victim’s injury resulted from the deviation of care if they establish that there was one

In most Florida medical malpractice cases, attorneys from both sides call on expert witnesses to give informed opinions through depositions. These are used by both sides when negotiating for an out-of-court settlement. If the case goes to court, the expert witnesses present their testimony to the judge and jury. An experienced medical malpractice attorney in Florida helps guide the expert’s testimony in terms the average juror understands. The expert witness may also submit scholarly articles and publications on medical industry standards to further support their opinions.

Who Qualifies as an Expert Witness in Florida Malpractice Cases?

When medical malpractice cases in Florida go to court, the judge determines whether or not they’ll accept a witness as an expert witness in the case. In Florida, an expert witness in a malpractice case must be a licensed practitioner who has thoroughly reviewed the medical records in the case. The expert witness could be one of the following:

  • A specialist in the same area of practice as the health care professional who is the defendant in the case
  • A general practitioner who has been actively practicing within the five years prior to the incident that is the basis of the malpractice case
  • Another healthcare provider in the same or similar clinical practice as the defendant and who has been active in the same area of the health profession as the defendant within three years before the date of the alleged malpractice occurrence

Medical experts are very often the key witnesses in medical malpractice cases. Only in cases of egregious malpractice in which the medical provider’s negligence is clear—such as leaving a surgical tool inside a patient’s body cavity—do malpractice cases sometimes proceed without the need for an expert witness.