Expert Witness in Medical Malpractice

How can expert witnesses be competent for a particular case?  In Koseoglu v. Wry, Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, Docket No.: A-1008-11T4, the Appellate Division held that, “the competency of a witness to testify as an expert is remitted to the sound discretion of the trial court.  Absent a clear abuse of discretion, an appellate court will not interfere with the exercise of that discretion.”

To qualify as an expert witness in a medical malpractice action, the test is whether he or she has sufficient knowledge of professional standards to justify the expression of an opinion.  If the trial court determines that a witness’ knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education is sufficient, then he or she qualifies as an expert is permitted to provide testimony within the scope of his or her expertise.

In this case, the experts all had medical degrees and practiced internal medicine, emergency medicine, cardiology, and cardiovascular pathology. The trial court determined that even though plaintiff’s experts were not specialists in the diagnosis or treatment of myocarditis they were still qualified to provide opinions.  The trial judge pointed out to the jury that they are the ones who must weigh the credibility of each expert witness and are “not bound by the testimony of an expert.”  Instead the jury may give whatever weight they deemed appropriate and accept or reject “all or part of an expert’s opinion.”  The jury was also told that “when examining each expert’s opinion, you may consider the person’s reasons for testifying . . . and the believability of the expert, including all the considerations that generally apply when you are deciding whether or not to believe a witness’ testimony.”

Clearly, an expert witness has to be qualified to offer any opinions they are seeking to convey to the jury.  However, once a trial court accepts them as an expert, it is up to a jury to determine how much weight, if any, and expert’s opinion deserves.