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The Importance of Expert Testimony in Medical Malpractice Cases

Tennessee law requires victims in medical malpractice cases to clear certain hurdles before their case can even get to trial. Unlike many other personal injury claims, medical malpractice requires the plaintiff to produce “expert testimony” from a licensed health care professional qualified in the field “relevant to the issues in the case.” Without such expert testimony, a Tennessee judge may dismiss a case regardless of whatever additional evidence the plaintiff offers.

Court Excludes Testimony of Expert Witness Who Refused to Disclose Income

And even where the expert witness is fully qualified, a court may still exclude testimony based on other factors. For example, the Tennessee Court of Appeals recently held that an expert witness’s opinions may be stricken if they fail to disclose information about their income. Although this was not directly related to the issues raised in the plaintiff’s malpractice complaint, the court said the defendants were nonetheless entitled to review such information.

The underlying malpractice lawsuit was actually filed in 2011. The case had been set for trial in 2013. As required by Tennessee law, the plaintiffs (one of whom is now deceased) identified a qualified expert witness. During a pre-trial deposition, counsel for the defendants asked the expert to disclose his “income from medical-legal review”—that is to say, how much he earned from testifying as a witness in other malpractice cases. The expert declined to answer these questions, citing privacy concerns.

The defense then asked the trial judge to compel the expert to answer. The judge granted the motion, but the expert still declined to answer the questions. As it turned out, this same expert’s refusal to disclose his medical-legal review income was the subject of another case then before the Tennessee Court of Appeals. The trial judge thus stayed the present case until the Court of Appeals ruled.

The appeals court ended up ruling against the expert, holding “the discovery of an expert’s income from medical-legal review was proper.” Based on that decision, the judge in the present case ruled the expert’s testimony inadmissible. And since the plaintiff’s case could not proceed without such testimony, the judge was forced to grant summary judgment to the defense.

The plaintiffs appealed, arguing the Court of Appeals should overturn its previous decision. But as the appeals court explained, that is not how the judicial system works. The earlier decision is considered published, binding precedent, meaning it must be followed “unless and until such opinion is reversed or modified by a court of competent jurisdiction,” such as the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Get Help from a Knoxville Personal Injury Lawyer

The net effect of these decisions is that medical malpractice defendants (and their insurance companies) may become more aggressive in using discovery to try and exclude expert testimony, thereby short circuiting a plaintiff’s ability to have their case heard by a jury. This is why if you are in a position where you may need to bring a negligence or malpractice claim, it is critical you seek assistance from a qualified Tennessee personal injury lawyer. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, in Knoxville or Clinton if you need to speak with someone about your case today.

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