Medical practitioners have a duty to keep their patients safe by adhering to established care standards. When a medical professional violates these standards and a patient is harmed as a result, the patient may bring a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Medical malpractice lawsuits serve different functions. Importantly, these legal actions help victims of medical mistakes recover the monetary damages they need to address the harm they have suffered. In addition, facing liability for their mistakes incentivizes those in the medical industry to live up to the highest standards of care.
Medical malpractice cases can take up a substantial amount of a court's time. Yet, the inherent complexity of most medical procedures warrants a full and thorough review. In one recent New Jersey medical malpractice case, a trial judge limited the number of expert witnesses in the name of expediency - but an appellate panel overruled him and ordered a new trial.
The recent case arose out of a stabbing that left a New Jersey teen in the hospital. Admitted at age 16, the teen developed a staph infection which ultimately rendered him paralyzed. He also suffered brain damage, and at age 18, succumbed to complications. The teen's mother sued the hospital that was responsible for his care, claiming that if doctors had adhered to applicable standards of care, the infection would have been discovered sooner and her son would have lived.
At trial, the judge ruled that each side was only permitted to call a single expert witness in any relevant field of medicine, purportedly as a means to avoid duplicate testimony. The lawyer for the victim's mother had wished to call a second expert witness to support the claim that doctors failed to administer a standard blood test that would have revealed the infection, but was unable to do so because of the ruling. In the end, the jury found doctors did not breach the standard of care.
However, the case was not over yet. Expert witness testimony is so important in most medical malpractice cases because the general public - the pool from which juries are drawn - typically does not have an in-depth knowledge of acceptable medical standards. It takes experts who are well-versed on the subject to elucidate just what doctors should have done in a given situation and why. In this case, the victim's mother and her lawyer believed that a second expert witness would have convinced the jury that doctors did in fact deviate from the standard of care.
An appeal ensured, and in late March, a three-judge appellate panel of the Superior Court agreed that the trial judge should not have limited the number of expert witnesses. The court called the issue of deviation from the proper standard of care "crucial," and writing for the panel, Judge Victor Ashrafi said, "Nothing in our rules of evidence, or other laws or rules, gives a trial court authority to balance the number of witnesses presented by each side at the trial." A new trial was ordered in which the plaintiff will be permitted to present a second expert witness
While every medical malpractice case is different, the ruling is generally good for victims of medical malpractice because it emphasizes their right to present all relevant evidence free of arbitrary constraints. If you or a family member has been the victim of a medical mistake, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney today to ensure that a judge or jury gets to hear your side of the story.