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The Role of Medical Experts in Georgia Malpractice Cases

Expert witnesses occupy a unique position in Georgia malpractice cases.  For individuals and their families evaluating a potential malpractice claim, it is vital that they secure the services of attorneys familiar with the special requirements these cases pose.  Most personal injury cases, such as car accidents, can be pursued without retaining the services of medical experts.  Often, victims of car accidents or slip and falls can go to trial with nothing more than their own testimony and the medical records provided by their doctors.  Georgia malpractice cases, unlike these general liability claims, require the assistance of medical experts both to bring a lawsuit in the first instance and to prevail before a jury at trial.

The Expert Affidavit Requirement

Lawsuits in Georgia are initiated by the filing of a complaint, a legal document setting out “a short and plain statement of the claims” for which a plaintiff is seeking relief.  Most cases are allowed to proceed so long as the complaint provides at a general level:

1) the facts underlying the plaintiff’s case;

2) why those facts are actionable under the law; and

3) what the plaintiff is asking the court to do in order to resolve the lawsuit. 

Many civil cases arise from theories of negligence: for example, a plaintiff may allege that a driver was negligent in texting while driving, which resulted in the driver causing a car accident injuring the plaintiff.  Negligence simply means that a defendant was acting unreasonably. 

Malpractice cases are just cases of negligence, but they are special because they involve specialized decisions about which most people have little knowledge.  For example, any adult knows it is unreasonable to text while driving, but it takes years of education and training for someone to know what medications and treatments should be administered to a patient presenting to the emergency department with chest pain.  Because medical malpractice claims involve allegations that a doctor or healthcare provider was unreasonable when practicing medicine, the Georgia General Assembly passed a law requiring any complaint alleging medical malpractice to be supported by the sworn statement of a medical expert.  This expert affidavit requirement, which is codified in O.C.G.A. § 9-11-9.1, requires claims for malpractice to be accompanied by the affidavit of an appropriate expert, specifically one who is a member of the same profession as the defendant and, as it pertains to a doctor, for three out of the last five years, has performed the procedure or treatment which the defendant negligently performed.

As an example, if you suspect that your doctor was negligent in removing your appendix, any lawsuit you file against that doctor would ideally be supported by a written statement under oath from another doctor who frequently performs appendectomies or sufficiently similar surgeries.  That doctor would have to swear under oath that, after reviewing your medical records, he or she has concluded that your physician was negligent in performing your appendectomy.  Any case filed without that affidavit will be dismissed.

Medical Experts at Trial

Medical experts are needed not only to file a medical malpractice lawsuit, but also to allow a case to proceed to a trial and verdict.  This means that the role of a medical expert does not stop when a complaint is filed.  A defendant in a malpractice case will always be qualified to testify about the care and treatment they provided.  To counter that, a plaintiff must produce not just the written affidavit described above, but also the oral testimony of that expert witness or others.  This testimony is typically given at least twice, first before the case proceeds to trial in a deposition, which allows both sides to learn the opinions of witnesses who will come to court to testify.  Second, the testimony is usually given again at trial.  It is at trial that an expert is ultimately required to specify at least one action or inaction by a defendant doctor that, more likely than not, caused an injury to the plaintiff.

Experts at trial are subject to the same requirements as experts who give affidavits in support of cases, but they are also subject to broader requirements to ensure that their testimony is reliable and helpful to a jury.  Experts who fail to meet these requirements can be excluded from testifying at trial.  This can sometimes be a fatal procedural “error,” in some cases causing one side of a dispute to prevail as a matter of law. 

Plaintiffs and defendants in malpractice cases frequently retain multiple experts to support their view of a case.  These experts are compensated for their time, but it is crucial that a lawyer not simply pay a doctor with the flashiest resume.  Instead, experts should be selected for their familiarity with the medicine at issue, their ability to successfully meet the legal requirements for giving expert testimony in Georgia malpractice cases, and their ability to explain complicated medical topics to a jury in an easy to understand and approachable fashion.  As a firm that handles a large amount of medical malpractice litigation, you can rest assured that Lourie, Chance, Forlines, Carter & King will evaluate your case with an eye to obtaining qualified, reliable, and relatable medical experts who will be able to support your case from filing through to trial.

Call us at  404-760-7400 – Let Us Help You Win Your Medical Malpractice Case

At Lourie, Chance, Forlines, Carter & King, we understand the complexities involved in medical malpractice cases and the crucial role that expert witnesses play. Our firm is dedicated to leveraging the best medical experts who not only possess the necessary qualifications and experience but also have the ability to convey their insights clearly and convincingly to a jury. By meticulously selecting and working closely with these experts, we ensure that every aspect of your case is robustly supported from the initial filing to the final trial. Trust us to provide the expertise and advocacy you need to pursue justice in your medical malpractice case.