Relationship of Specialties for Expert Witnesses: Don’t Need to be the Same
In a case rewarding a $1.7million judgment against an orthopedic surgeon for negligence, the Maryland Special Court of Appeals ruled that a physician in a related field can testify regarding standards of care. In this case, a vascular surgeon testified about the standards of care rather than an orthopedic surgeon due to the “related” specialties.
Gene Ransom, CEO of MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society commented on the ruling:
“We don’t like the ruling, because it seems to weaken the tort reform that we passed, specifically, the expert witness requirement,” Ransom said. The provision “is important, because you really want to make sure you’re being held to the appropriate standard of care to determine if you’re negligent. You wouldn’t want the inappropriate person judging you for your acts.”
The orthopedic surgeon appealed the ruling, claiming the plaintiff violated Maryland’s expert witness requirements posed by the 2005 state tort reform provision requiring experts to have the same or similar medical background as the doctor being sued. The expert must therefore be board certified in the same specialty, and vascular and orthopedic surgery are regulated by different specialty boards.
The subject of dispute lies in what the court considered to be the meaning of “related”.
“Not all surgical specialties necessarily are associated or connected with respect to diagnosis and treatment of a particular patient. … We conclude, however, that in the context of the malpractice allegations in this case, the specialties of orthopedic surgery and vascular surgery overlap, so that the board certification specialties are ‘related’ within the meaning of [the law],” the court said.
Other states have differing opinions on the matter of expert witness requirements. South Carolina made a ruling that was based on the reasoning that an expert need not address that the negligence caused injury, only that the standard of care was breached. However, the 5th District Court of Appeals in Texas in 2011 upheld the state’s certificate-of-merit requirement for medical liability cases.
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