How Important is Expert Testimony in Medical Malpractice Cases?

medical_appointment_doctor_563427-1024x683In the face of the profound loss that accompanies the passing of a family member, the impact can be particularly agonizing when that loss follows the anticipation of medical intervention, such as a transplant. The immediate inclination might be to explore legal avenues through a medical malpractice claim, yet the determination of whether negligence played a role can be an intricate matter for the average individual. This Louisiana case shows how important it can be to obtain expert testimony to help show malpractice occurred. 

The medical malpractice case brought by Jarrard Green and his sister Bernadine Green arose from complications after a donated kidney failed post-transplant. Jarrard donated his kidney to Bernadine, who suffered from end-stage renal disease. The transplant was performed by one of the defendants, Joseph Buell. Several days after the transplant, the kidney failed and needed removal. Jarrard initiated a Medical Review Panel process which rendered an opinion in favor of the defendants stating there was no breach in the standard of care. 

A medical malpractice and lack of informed consent lawsuit followed. Defendants Dr. Joseph Buell, Dr. Douglas Slakey, and Tulane University Hospital filed a motion for summary judgment stating the Greens lacked the necessary expert testimony to support the allegations. The motion was granted by the trial court dismissing the claims. The Greens appealed. 

The plaintiffs claimed one assignment of error: the trial court erred when granting the motion for summary judgment because an expert was not necessary. Under La.C.C.P. art. 966(B), if a mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law and the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions on file, and affidavits show no genuine issue of material fact, then a motion for summary judgment will be granted. In addition, under La.C.C.P. art. 966(D)(1), the mover must at least show the court there is a lack of factual support for one or more of the essential elements of the adverse party’s claim, action, or defense. The adverse party must then show factual support for that element to satisfy the evidentiary burden to prove there is no genuine issue of material fact.

The appeals court agreed with the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The appeals court stated the plaintiff failed to retain an expert witness to support the claims even after the Medical Review Panel issued its opinion finding the healthcare providers did not fail to meet the standard of care. In addition, the defendants supported their motion for summary judgment with the unanimous decision from the review panel, the plaintiff’s responses to interrogatories that no expert had been identified, and the consent forms signed by the Greens. 

The appeals court stated expert testimony is generally required in a medical malpractice case to show whether the standard of care was breached.  The only exception is when the negligence is so obvious a layperson can infer it without the help of an expert. The appeals court reasoned this was not a case that a layperson could have determined a standard of care without the guidance of an expert, and due to the failure of the plaintiff to provide an expert opinion to show the standard of care was breached; the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment for the defendants. The appeals court decided the burden was on the plaintiff to show the defendants were not entitled to judgment once they established the absence of factual support for the claims brought against them. The plaintiffs failed to provide an expert, so there was no error in the trial court’s decision. The appeals court upheld the trial court’s decision.

While the anguish of losing a loved one due to medical circumstances is undeniable, it is essential to recognize that medical malpractice is not invariably the cause. This case underscores expert testimony’s pivotal role in substantiating claims of a breached standard of care within medical malpractice litigation. The intricacies surrounding medical outcomes necessitate an informed evaluation, where an expert witness can provide the clarity to ascertain whether medical malpractice was a contributing factor or if other determinants were at play

Additional Source: Jarrard A. Green, Individually and on Behalf of the Estate of Bernadine Green v. Dr. Joseph Buell, et al.

Written by Berniard Law Firm Writer Alivia Rose

Additional Berniard Law Firm Article: When Do I Need Expert Testimony for a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?

Contact Information