What Are Medical Expert Witnesses?

What Are Medical Expert Witnesses

Regarding medical malpractice cases, hiring an expert witness is nearly as important as hiring an attorney. These medical experts are pivotal in helping juries and judges understand complex medical issues and determine whether a healthcare provider acted negligently.

At Curcio & Casciato in Chicago, Illinois, we understand the significance of expert witnesses in medical malpractice cases and their critical role in seeking justice for victims of medical negligence. In this blog, we explain everything you need to know about medical malpractice expert witnesses: what they are, what qualifications they need, how they help in a medical malpractice claim, and more.

If you or a loved one has suffered a major injury, illness, or wrongful death due to a doctor’s negligence, it’s crucial to hire a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at Curcio & Casciato. We understand the complexities of medical malpractice law, and we’ll hire the best medical expert witness to provide testimony. Call 312-321-1111 to schedule a free consultation at Curcio & Casciato today.

What is Medical Malpractice?

medical malpractice expert witnesses

Before we dive into the realm of expert witnesses, it’s crucial to understand what medical malpractice is. Medical malpractice is a legal tort in which a healthcare provider, such as a doctor, nurse, or hospital, deviates from the standard of care expected in their profession, resulting in harm or injury to a patient. This deviation from the standard of care can take various forms, including misdiagnosis, surgical errors, medication mistakes, etc.

Common Types of Medical Malpractice

There are many ways that medical professionals can act negligently and provide overall poor medical care. Some of the most common types of medical malpractice lawsuits involve diagnostic errors, surgical errors, medication errors, birth injuries, and even nursing home abuse and neglect.

Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis

One of the most common forms of medical malpractice is misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. This occurs when a healthcare provider fails to accurately diagnose a medical condition or takes an unreasonably long time to do so, leading to worsened health or complications for the patient. Contact a Chicago cancer misdiagnosis attorney for more information.

Surgical Errors

Surgical errors encompass a wide range of mistakes that can occur during surgery. These errors may include performing the wrong procedure, operating on the wrong body part, leaving surgical instruments inside the patient, or making mistakes during anesthesia administration. Surgical errors can occur in any specialty, including plastic surgery, emergency medicine, orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, etc.

Medication Errors

Medication errors involve mistakes in prescribing, administering, or monitoring medications. This can lead to life-threatening adverse reactions, overdoses, or dangerous drug interactions for the patient. 

Birth Injuries

Birth injuries can occur when healthcare providers fail to provide adequate care during pregnancy, labor, or delivery. These injuries can lead to life-long disabilities in newborns and significant emotional distress for their families. Medical errors can even lead to maternal death during childbirth as well. A Chicago birth injury attorney can help you determine if you have grounds to file a claim.

Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect

Nursing home abuse and neglect often fall under the legal umbrella of medical malpractice because of the number of injuries and health complications that elderly people suffer from due to poor medical care.

Elder abuse and neglect can take various forms, including malnutrition and dehydration, medication mismanagement, untreated infections or sepsis, untreated bedsores, and even physical and emotional abuse. Chicago elder abuse attorneys at Curcio & Casciato are passionate about fighting for the rights and justice of elderly nursing home residents.

What Are Medical Malpractice Expert Witnesses?


A medical malpractice expert witness is a medical professional with specialized knowledge and expertise in the medical specialty in which negligence occurred. Medical expert witnesses are called upon to provide professional opinions and testify during medical malpractice claims. These experts are essential in helping the court understand the intricacies of medical procedures, medical standards of care, and the specific actions or omissions that may constitute medical negligence.

Why Expert Witnesses Are Necessary in Medical Malpractice Cases

It is crucial to have expert witness testimony in medical malpractice claims because a medical malpractice lawyer is a legal expert, not a board-certified medical expert. They know the intricacies of medical litigation but very little about the human body, medical conditions, medical procedures, medical terminology, etc. 

During a medical malpractice case, medical experts will clarify complex medical concepts, establish medical standards of care, and prove causation.

Complex Medical Concepts

Medical malpractice cases often involve complex medical evidence that can be challenging for a lawyer, jury, or judge to comprehend. An expert witness bridges this knowledge gap by reviewing medical records and explaining medical procedures, standards of care, and the defendant’s alleged negligence in simple and understandable terms during the medical malpractice lawsuit.

Establishing the Medical Standard of Care

To prove medical malpractice, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the healthcare provider deviated from the medical standard of care. The medical standard of care is the level and type of medical care that a competent doctor with the same medical education and the same or similar medical specialty would have provided in the same situation where negligence occurred.

So the main question at hand in medical negligence cases regarding the standard of care is: “Would a medical professional with the same specialized knowledge in the field have provided the same level and quality of treatment in the same or similar situation?” If the answer is “no, this is an unreasonable standard of care,” and the plaintiff suffered physical, emotional, and/or financial harm, they may have a strong medical malpractice case.

The medical expert’s opinion can be essential in proving deviation from the standard of care outlined by the American Board of Medicine. The opinion of the expert witness during the expert testimony during the medical malpractice lawsuit can help answer this question and determine if the doctor committed medical negligence.

It’s important to note that an expert witness testimony may not hold as much value in emergency medicine medical malpractice cases. Emergency medicine has more leeway since emergency physicians aren’t always held to the same standard of care that board-certified physicians operating out of an active clinical practice.

Proving Causation

In addition to establishing the standard of care, lawyers and medical experts must prove that the defendant’s negligence directly caused the plaintiff’s injury or harm. 

It is very possible for a medical professional to make a mistake that doesn’t harm their patient in the slightest. However, these patients wouldn’t have grounds to bring a medical malpractice case because the causation element of negligence would not be met.

Expert witnesses can offer their professional opinion on the causation link, helping establish a clear connection between the healthcare provider’s actions that deviated from the standard of care and the patient’s personal injury suffering.

Offering Counterarguments

Medical expert testimony may also provide counterarguments to challenge the opposing party’s expert witnesses. This highlights the complexities of medical opinions and helps the court evaluate the credibility of each expert’s testimony.

Who Qualifies to Be a Medical Expert Witness?

legal medical experts

Not just any healthcare provider can qualify as a medical expert witness. The court typically requires expert witnesses to meet specific criteria, including having relevant education and experience, actively practicing medicine, and being impartial to the plaintiff or case.

Relevant Education and Experience

Expert witnesses must have extensive education and experience in the medical field where malpractice occurs. For example, if a board-certified neurosurgeon is the defendant in a case, then the expert witness must have the same or similar medical degree and be in the same or similar medical profession.

This ensures that the expert witness testimony is accurate and relevant to the issue at hand.

Recent or Active Clinical Practice

It is not enough to have just been to medical school at some point and be in the same medical community as the defendant. Many courts also prefer expert witnesses who are actively practicing in a full-time clinical practice or have recent experience in relevant medical specialties. This demonstrates their up-to-date knowledge of current medical practices and standards of care.

For example, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who has been retired for more than ten years may have outdated knowledge of current surgical procedures and technology. Therefore, they may not have the relevant knowledge or experience to know if another board-certified orthopedic surgeon acted negligently.


Expert witnesses are expected to provide unbiased opinions based on the facts and evidence presented in the case. The expert witness should not have any financial interest in the outcome of the litigation, nor should they have any familial or emotional connection to either party in the medical malpractice lawsuit.

Do You Need an Expert Witness to File a Medical Malpractice Claim in Illinois?

expert witness medical malpractice

About half of U.S. states require plaintiffs to have a medical expert witness review their case before filing a claim. Illinois is one of these states where plaintiffs must submit an affidavit of merit that they (or their medical malpractice attorney) have spoken with a relevant medical expert who:

  • Has extensive knowledge about the medical issues at hand in the case.
  • Is actively practicing in the medical field where negligence occurred, or has practiced in the field in the last six years.
  • Has experience and knowledge about the main issues that arise in medical malpractice lawsuits.

Additionally, the affidavit of merit must include a statement from the medical professional that states that the plaintiff has “reasonable and meritorious cause” to file the lawsuit.

If the plaintiff cannot consult with a medical expert due to the impending Illinois statute of limitation deadline, they must do so (and submit an affidavit of merit) within 90 days of filing their claim. If the plaintiff fails to meet these requirements, their claim will be dismissed. 

Working with a team of attorneys who have experience in healthcare providers’ malpractice will ensure you meet all requirements for filing a lawsuit.

Medical Malpractice Cases That Don’t Require Medical Expert Witnesses

While most medical malpractice cases require expert witness testimony, there are some situations in which their testimony may not be necessary. These situations typically involve cases where the medical provider’s negligence is so evident that it does not require specialized medical knowledge to understand.

The “res ipsa loquitur” rule may apply in situations like this. This Latin phrase means “the thing speaks for itself.” In other words, some medical errors are so obvious that it doesn’t take an expert primary care physician or emergency physician to explain how the defendant failed to provide competent medical care.

Examples of such cases may include:

Foreign Objects Left Inside a Patient

When a surgeon leaves a foreign object, such as a surgical instrument or sponge, inside a patient’s body after surgery, the negligence is often self-evident and may not require an expert witness to establish.

Wrong-Site Surgery

Cases involving wrong-site surgery, where a surgeon operates on the wrong body part, are usually straightforward and may not require expert testimony to prove negligence either.

Medication Errors With Clear Documentation

Medication errors are well-documented in some cases, and the negligence is evident from the medical records. In situations like this, it doesn’t take a medical expert to prove that the wrong medication or dosage clearly caused the plaintiff’s injury.

Illinois Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice Cases

expert medical witness illinois

It’s important to be aware of the statute of limitations when pursuing a medical malpractice case in Illinois. The statute of limitations sets a time limit to file your lawsuit. The Illinois medical malpractice statute of limitations is generally two years from the date of the alleged negligence or from the date when you reasonably should have discovered the injury or illness.

However, a statute of repose in Illinois sets an absolute limit of four years from the date of the alleged negligence, regardless of when the injury was discovered. This means that even if you did not discover the injury until after four years, you may be unable to file a lawsuit.

It’s crucial to consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney at Curcio & Casciato as soon as possible if you believe you have a case. The timing of your lawsuit is critical, and failing to file within the statute of limitations can result in the loss of your right to seek compensation.

Call Chicago Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Curcio & Casciato Today

If you or a loved one has been a victim of medical malpractice in Chicago, Illinois, the dedicated team of attorneys at Curcio & Casciato is here to help. We have a proven track record of successfully representing clients in all sorts of personal injury cases, including the most complex medical malpractice cases. We understand the importance of consulting with the best expert witnesses in order to obtain justice for our clients.

Our experienced legal team can work with you to evaluate your case, gather the necessary evidence, and consult with qualified medical experts to build a compelling argument. We are committed to helping you obtain the compensation you deserve for your injuries and losses.

At Curcio & Casciato, we are dedicated to advocating for the rights of medical malpractice victims and holding negligent healthcare providers accountable for their actions. Contact us today at 312-321-1111 to take the first step toward seeking justice and closure for your medical malpractice claim.

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