If you have been injured due to the actions (or omissions) of a healthcare practitioner, you may have a legal claim for damages. In order to successfully prove your case at trial, your lawyer will present evidence to the court. After hearing both parties’ evidence, the judge or jury will decide if you proved your case on a balance of probabilities.
Medical malpractice lawsuits tend to require complex scientific evidence. Because the judge or jury do not typically have the medical background necessary to understand the evidence presented to them, the parties will use experts to analyze the evidence and provide the court with their expert opinions on what happened.
Most people who testify in court are not permitted to give opinion evidence. The court typically is only interested in hearing what a witness did, saw, heard, smelled, felt or tasted. The exception to this rule is that if someone is designated by the court to be an expert in a particular field, they are permitted to give an opinion within that field of expertise. The judge or jury can then use that opinion in reaching a decision, if they so choose. They do not have to accept the opinion of the expert and frequently there will be conflicting opinions from different experts, requiring the judge or jury to choose which expert they prefer.
Expert evidence is commonly used in medical malpractice cases to prove the standard of care that was expected of the practitioner accused of malpractice, and whether that standard was met. Most claimants in a medical malpractice case will require at least one expert to prove this part of the case. If the claimant fails to provide expert evidence for the court, the case may be dismissed before the trial even begins.
It is very rare that a medical malpractice case will proceed to trial without any expert evidence. In order for this to occur, the mistake made by the medical practitioner would have to be glaringly obvious to those outside the medical field. For example, if your surgeon dropped his watch into your chest cavity during open-heart surgery, you may not require an expert to tell the court that this falls below the expected standard of care. Most cases of medical malpractice are not so obvious.
In addition to the opinion evidence of an expert, you will likely need to provide additional evidence to show that the actions or omissions of the healthcare practitioner caused the damages that you suffered. This may require expert evidence as well, but medical records and your own testimony in addition to the testimony of other witnesses may be sufficient.
Your experienced medical malpractice lawyer will be able to advise you on precisely what evidence you will require to prove your case.