If you’re asked to be an expert witness, your duty will be to testify about your opinion about a component of the case.
Legal decisions are based on facts, and decisions can only be made after the facts of the case have been decided. Presenting evidence to a court can be complex when it involves medical professionals. Introducing evidence can happen in three main ways: documents, verbal witness testimony, and expert witness testimony. We are going to focus on expert witness testimony,
An expert witness cannot testify about the events of an incident, because they were not there when it occurred; they can only testify regarding their professional opinion about an element of the case.
Nurses As Expert Witnesses
To aid the court in properly understanding the technical and scientific evidence of the case, an expert witness must have some type of advanced experience and/or knowledge. Because of their professional experience, training, and skills, doctors and nurses make ideal expert witnesses.
Before being used as an expert witness, a health professional’s official qualifications and experience must be reviewed. If hired, you should not state opinions on circumstances outside of your expertise. One example of this is that a nurse may be considered an expert in an urban setting emergency room, but they may not be trained to give an opinion on travel nursing.
The witness will form their professional opinion based on materials provided by the legal team that hired them. Some of these materials might be part of the patient’s medical file, a Statement of Claim, Statements of Defense, and records of Examinations for Discovery. The witness’s opinion may include references to policies, standards of care, proper actions during the time of the incident, and any other pertinent materials. The lawyer will decide if the opinion should be reported back to them in writing, verbally, or both.
An expert’s opinion can be thrown out if it’s found that the basis for it is inaccurate, unreliable, or irrelevant. Even minor incorrect details can ruin an opinion.
If there is a trial, a nurse expert witness may have to testify; however, most civil trials will settle before getting to the trial. If the lawyers can agree that the nurse is an expert in their career, the court may accept it. Alternatively, although the nurse has already reported their professional opinion to a lawyer, evidence of their proclaimed expertise is presented to the court in what is called a voir dire.
A voir dire is essentially a trial within a trial, where the court will have to be pleased with four components before hearing the expert’s opinion evidence. These four things are:
- Necessity in aiding the court
- Relevance to the issue at hand
- Professional qualifications
- Absence of exclusionary rule of evidence
The court will usually refer to the expert witness’s evidence in its Reasons for Judgment. This means key evidence that helped the court reach a decision will be pointed out.
Like any type of evidence, expert witness opinions can differ. The court has to evaluate the entirety of the evidence and determine a verdict.
Nursing and medicine are different specialties, so witnesses in each field may not have the proper qualifications to provide opinions on the other’s practices and standards. However, since nurses and doctors usually work together, expert witnesses may be able to give opinions about each other’s responsibilities and roles.
A nurse expert witness can provide the court with well-informed evidence to help ensure that the judgment made is fair.
If you are hired as a nurse expert witness, some duties you may have include:
- Review agency or facility policies, protocols, and procedures relating to a specific incident
- Assess health records for consistency, accuracy, and incomplete data
- Research literature relevant to the case
- Examine state laws and regulations, nursing practice acts, and if necessary, scope and standards of practice for specific nursing specialties
Any of these types of nurses can be hired as expert witnesses:
- Certified Nursing Assistant
- CNAs help patients with eating, bathing, dressing, bathroom needs, and bed or wheelchair transfers
- Licensed Practical Nurse
- LPNs change bandages, do blood pressure tests, insert catheters, and many other tasks
- Registered Nurse
- RNs record medical histories, administer medications, monitor symptoms, oversee equipment, execute diagnostic tests, and collaborate care with doctors
- Advanced Practice Registered Nurse
- APRNs are the highest level of nurses. They earn a master’s degree to become clinical nurse specialists, certified nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists.
Over the years, there has been an increase in autonomy and accountability in the nursing profession. Because of this, nurse expert witnesses are an integral part of the outcomes of medical investigations and litigation.
Medical litigation can be complicated, contact Dr. McNew with Legal Medical Consulting if you need information about nursing expert witnesses in Dallas TX.