Not All Expert Witnesses in Medical Malpractice Cases Are Qualified for the Job
By Paul da Costa on June 08, 2015
In medical malpractice suits, parties often look for highly qualified medical professionals to testify as expert witnesses. However, it is important to be sure that the expert has experience and training that directly pertains to the issue in dispute. No matter how highly acclaimed a professional may be, he still might be the wrong fit.
In the recent unpublished New Jersey Appellate Division case of Singer v. Emeritus Senior Living Residence, the plaintiff appealed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant. Plaintiff brought a medical malpractice suit against the assisted living home where her recently deceased mother had resided. While living at Emeritus, decedent had suffered a series of falls. Her daughter claimed that the last of these falls, which resulted in her mother’s hospitalization, caused a dramatic decline in her mother’s cognitive abilities and hastened her death eight months later.
The plaintiff retained a board-certified psychiatrist to serve as an expert witness to testify that the decedent’s final fall caused a cognitive decline. The trial judge granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that plaintiff’s expert witness was not qualified to determine the standard of care for an assisted living facility, nor was he able to say with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the decedent’s fall hastened her death or caused a decline in her cognitive abilities. The judge stressed that the witness had no training or experience as a nurse, and he therefore was unqualified to render an opinion about nursing care in nursing home facilities.
The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s ruling. It rejected plaintiff’s argument that because she survived a challenge to her expert witness’s qualifications under the Affidavit of Merit statute, summary judgment should not have been granted. Under the AOM statute, a plaintiff is required to make only a threshold showing that her claim has merit.
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