Who Is A Medical Expert?

Expert witnesses play a vital role in the success of a case at trial. Typically, both the plaintiffs and the defendants will have expert witnesses that testify that either the standard of care was or was not violated. The outcome of a case may depend upon which expert witness the jury believes more. Therefore, having reliable and qualified expert witness that can assist the jury with the evidence is paramount to having a successful outcome at trial.

The role of an expert is to assist the jury in how they understand the evidence in the case. According to the North Carolina Rules of Evidence an expert is, “a witness who has specialized knowledge may be qualified as an expert witness, upon a showing of his specialized knowledge, skill, training, experience, or education, and may testify in the form of an opinion, if that will be helpful to the jury.” N.C.R. Evid. 702(a).

A medical expert comes in many forms. Typically, an attorney will have a medical expert that is familiar with and focuses on a particular practice of medicine. For example, a trial dealing with injuries suffered during birth would likely have an OB/GYN as the medical expert. An injury dealing with the spinal cord would have a neurosurgeon or rheumatologist. A case dealing with the neglect in a nursing home may only need a registered nurse as an expert.

When put in its simplest form, a medical expert is someone who can help the jury understand the medical side of a trial. The best experts are the best educators. Medical experts will usually explain to the jury what the standard of care or usual actions of the medical industry are. This, in turn, allows a jury to determine liability.

Signs of Nursing Home Abuse

Too often nursing home abuse or neglect takes place in a nursing home but is never detected until it is too late.

One of the unfortunate realities about growing old is that your body and mind begin to deteriorate. That is a fact of life. However, the excuses that injuries and conditions are caused by old age are too common in nursing facilities. No matter what someone’s age is they should not suffer the consequences of a staff that fails to provide the care that they are being paid to give.

The best way to protect your loved one in a nursing facility is to stay engaged and active in their care. Don’t ever hesitate to ask questions or demand answers if you believe they are not receiving the appropriate care. However, below are some common examples of nursing home neglect and abuse:

Rapid loss of weight without a change in medical treatment

Untouched food on trays that are out of patient’s reach

Extreme hunger when eating with or fed by family

Extreme thirst when fluids are provided by family

Overly medicated, despondent and generally not acting themselves (unless there is a medical reason)

Suddenly fearful or easily spooked

Excessive number of or frequent occurrence of cuts, bruises and other wounds

Frequent hospitalizations

Hesitancy of nursing home to send your loved one to the hospital

Hesitancy of nursing home to seek physician opinion when requested by patient or family

Rarely gets patient out of bed or rarely turns the patient (unless medical condition requires non-movement)

Lack of safety restraints when sitting in a wheelchair

Frequent or unexplained broken bones

Smell or odor coming from the patient may be a sign of bed sores or decubitus ulcers

If you believe your loved one is suffering some form of nursing home neglect or abuse it is important that you contact a nursing home injury lawyer.

What is the Standard of Care?

What is the “standard of care” in a medical malpractice case in North Carolina? Many people have asked us this question at Duncan Law.

In North Carolina to be successful in a medical malpractice action, you must prove to a jury or judge that the defendant healthcare provider deviated from or violated the standard of care. This is usually done by testimony of an expert witness, usually another healthcare provider in the same specialty as the defendant healthcare provider. The North Carolina legislature has defined the standard of care in North Carolina General Statute 90-21.12. The law states:

“In any action for damages for personal injury or death arising out of the furnishing or failure to furnish professional services in the performance of medical, dental, or other healthcare, the defendant shall not be liable for the payment of damages unless the trier of the facts is satisfied by the greater weight of the evidence that the care of such healthcare provider was not in accordance with the standards of practice among members of the same health care profession with similar training and experience situated in the same or similar communities at the time of the alleged act giving rise to this cause of action.”

You are probably asking what does all of this legal jargon mean?

Basically, the law states that a doctor, dentist, nurse, etc. must act within the same standards as other persons in their profession within the same or similar community at the time of the alleged medical malpractice action. In other words, a heart surgeon should practice and use the same guidelines and procedures as other heart surgeons in similar communities. As an exaggerated example, all heart surgeons do not use chain saws to open a patient’s chest. If a heart surgeon were to use a chain saw and injure the patient, then that doctor would had violated the standard of care. He should have known the use of the chainsaw was not within the standards for heart surgeons.

I have had many clients express to me that if there was a bad outcome for a medical treatment then the doctor must had made a mistake and therefore violated the standard of care. Not necessarily!

An example- sometimes patients are put under anesthesia and they never wake up and die. Did the anesthesiologist violate the standard of care by allowing the patient to die? The key question will be did the anesthesiologist do anything different under the same conditions and circumstances as another different anesthesiologist would had done? Sometimes, under no fault of anyone, patients have a reaction to the anesthesia and die. This would not necessarily be a violation of the standard of care. However, if the anesthesiologist forgot to turn on the oxygen for the patient and the patient died from lack of oxygen, then the failure to turn on the oxygen for the patient is a violation of the standard of care and the anesthesiologist probably committed medical malpractice.

We hope this helps you in understanding the requirement of deviating or violating the standard of care in North Carolina that is required for a successful medical malpractice case. If we can help you with a possible medical malpractice case that you may have contact us today.