What does it take for someone to qualify as an expert witness in a Tennessee medical malpractice trial?
This is a question that is very difficult to answer. To make this a little easier to follow let’s assume that an internist has been sued.
In Tennessee, an expert testifying about whether the internist committed an error must be familiar with good professional practice (the "standard of care") for the internists in the community in which the defendant internist practices or in similar communities and must testify that the internist did not follow that standard of care. In other words, the witness must be able to say that the internist either did something he or she should not have done or did not do something he or she should have done. The expert need not necessarily be an internist – depending on the circumstances a family practice doctor or other type of doctor could testify about the standard of care for an internist under a particular set of facts.
An expert is also necessary to testify that more likely than not the error caused an injury or death that would not have otherwise occurred. This may or may not be the same expert who testified about the standard of care.
In Tennessee, expert witnesses in medical malpractice cases must come from Tennessee or states that are contiguous to Tennessee. This goofy rule, unique to Tennessee, was passed by the Legislature at the urging of doctors to make it harder for patients to find experts to testify against Tennessee doctors. It works.
The qualifications of the expert to testify are determined by the trial judge, who undertakes the effor to see if the witness has sufficient knowledge on a subject matter to testify. There is often a big fight about the qualifications of expert witnesses to testify in a given case, particularly in medical malpractice trials. To qualify as an expert the witness in a medical case the expert does not need to be "super doctor." In fact, one argument often made by doctors who are sued is that the patient’s expert is a "super doctor" who practices at a level higher than the standard of care requires.
As suggested above, this is a relatively simple answer to a very complicated question. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer will be able to answer this question when presented with the circumstances of a particular case.
John Day represents personal injury victims and families of wrongful death victims. He is board-certified as a civil trial specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy and, in fact, served as President of the organization. He is an elected member of the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers. His book, "Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law," is used by judges and lawyers across Tennessee to further their understanding of personal injury and wrongful death law in Tennessee. In 2009, Best Lawyers named John "Best Personal Injury Lawyer" for Nashville; he was the first recipient of that award. Best Lawyers also named John as "Best Medical Malpractice Lawyer in Nashville" for 2010. John does not charge for an initial consultation and accepts personal injury and wrongful death cases on a contingent fee basis. You can reach him by telephone at 615.742.4880 or by email by clicking here.