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Why Expert Testimony Is Critical in Tennessee Medical Malpractice Cases


Medical malpractice cases are often the most difficult type of personal injury lawsuit to win in Tennessee because plaintiffs are held to strict requirements for presenting expert testimony. Such testimony is necessary to establish causation, that is a link between the defendant’s negligence and the plaintiff’s injuries. Many medical malpractice cases turn on whether a judge accepts or rejects the expert’s theory of causation.

Trial Judge Incorrectly Rejects Surgeon’s Expert Testimony

Here is an illustration from a recent Tennessee medical malpractice case. The plaintiff sought treatment from the defendant hospital for a shoulder injury. A doctor employed by the defendant examined the plaintiff and diagnosed her injury without first ordering an X-ray. Approximately one month later, another doctor, not affiliated with the defendant, performed an X-ray and referred the plaintiff to an orthopedic surgeon. The surgeon conducted a CT scan and diagnosed the plaintiff with a fracture dislocation, which required surgery.

Unfortunately, the surgery led to further complications. Several months after the procedure, doctors discovered an infection in the shoulder joint. This required additional surgery. Consequently, the plaintiff sustained a “partial physical impairment” in her shoulder.

The plaintiff sued the defendants–the hospital and doctor who initially examined her–alleging their failure to perform an X-ray when she first presented caused an unnecessary delay in her receiving proper treatment. The plaintiff’s orthopedic surgeon offered expert testimony stating that, in his professional opinion, “an initial X-ray performed at the initial treatment would have given me more options for treatment than were available by the time I first saw [the plaintiff].” The surgeon stated he could have used a less invasive surgical procedure the first time, which “would have decreased the amount of permanent impairment” to the defendant’s shoulder.

The defendants objected to the surgeon’s testimony as “speculative.” The judge agreed and excluded it, which also required dismissing the plaintiff’s lawsuit since she could not establish causation without the expert testimony. The plaintiff appealed.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiff that the trial court made a mistake. The Court noted the surgeon’s opinions were not speculative, but rather expressed “within a reasonable degree of medical certainty.” The surgeon repeatedly stated his view that the delay between when the defendants examined the plaintiff and when he first saw her–a period of nearly five weeks–effectively limited his treatment options and required him to use more invasive surgical methods than would otherwise have been necessary. The surgeon’s testimony was therefore admissible, and the trial judge should not have excluded it and granted summary judgment to the defendant.

Have You Been a Victim of Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice cases are often long and complicated affairs, due in no small part to disputes over the admissibility of expert testimony. That is why if you or a family member have suffered due to a doctor or hospital’s negligence, you need to seek assistance from a qualified Knoxville personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, to speak with a medical malpractice attorney today.



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