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Qualifications for Expert Witnesses in Pennsylvania Personal Injury Lawsuits

In personal injury lawsuits, experts may provide opinions and supporting evidence that can determine a legal outcome and a damages award.  Whether at trial or in settlement negotiations, expert testimony can make a large impact on the compensation secured by a plaintiff.  Expert witnesses can analyze complicated issues and explain their opinions to the jury. The goal of using an expert is to support the claims set forth by the plaintiff (assuming the expert has been retained by the plaintiff).

In some situations, parties to a lawsuit may not settle a lawsuit until after the experts issue their reports or offer testimony on the knowledge held by the average person and the knowledge of an expert. Expert witnesses are expected to clearly present their intended method, and it should meet the standards for courtroom evidentiary admissions.

Pennsylvania law sets forth standards for the qualification of an expert witness, which are liberal and allow individuals with a degree of specialized knowledge to serve as an expert and offer opinion testimony.  The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, in the case of Miller v. Brass Rail Tavern, Inc., 541 Pa. 474 (1995), addressed this standard. Expert witnesses are unlike other witnesses who may offer testimony in a lawsuit because experts may provide opinions. Examples of expert witnesses include engineering professionals, medical experts, and economists. Lay witnesses, in comparison,  offer testimony based on personal knowledge, which is what they have seen or heard.

In most personal injury lawsuits, the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating the defendant’s negligence by showing that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, the defendant breached this duty, and this breach directly led to the resulting injuries.  Expert testimony may be used to prove a duty, also known as the reasonable standard of care. Or an expert can offer testimony concerning the potential costs of future medical care.  For example, in a personal injury case, the plaintiff’s physician may serve as a medical expert, explaining the related injuries and offering details on necessary treatment.

In some circumstances, when a special relationship exists between the plaintiff and the defendant, such as in a doctor-patient relationship, the standard of care must be assessed to see whether the defendant’s services fell below the reasonable standard within that professional community.  If the issue is whether the defendant doctor made mistakes for which he can be held liable, the expert’s testimony would focus on the conduct of other professionals in that specialty.  In other words, the plaintiff does not determine whether the defendant has been negligent. A showing of negligence must be demonstrated, and expert testimony is one method of showing negligent conduct.

According to Pennsylvania law, the MCARE Act rather than Miller governs the qualification of expert witnesses in cases of medical malpractice.  The applicable law, set forth in section 512 of the MCARE Act, applies to lawsuits against doctors. When professional liability actions are brought against non-physician medical care professionals, such as nurses and dentists, section 512 does not apply.

Under MCARE Act section 512, liability expert witnesses must have the same specialty board certification and sub-board certification as the defendant doctor against whom they are testifying.  There are exceptions, but this is the general rule.

At Needle Law, our personal injury attorneys have successfully advocated on behalf of plaintiffs injured by the negligence of others, seeking compensation for their losses. We provide a free consultation. Contact us today by calling 570-344-1266.

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