The Importance of Expert Testimony in Medical Malpractice Cases

Although many people associate medical malpractice solely with physician error, other health care providers, such as emergency medical technicians, can seriously injure (or kill) patients by failing to follow an appropriate standard of professional care. After all, when you call 911, you expect emergency workers to respond and provide necessary medical care. When they fail to do so, they should be held responsible for the consequences.

County EMS Faces Negligence Claim Over Infant’s Death

A Florida appeals court recently addressed a tragic case involving the death of an 11-month-old child. In November 2007, emergency medical personnel working for Columbia County responded to a 911 call reporting the child was in “respiratory distress.” The EMS personnel only examined the child for 10 minutes before leaving. But less than an hour later, EMS received a second call declaring the child “was not breathing at all.” This time when emergency personnel responded, they took the child to a hospital. But it was too late and the child died the next day.

The child’s mother sued Columbia County for negligence and malpractice. In support of her complaint, she offered expert testimony from an emergency room physician who reviewed the case and opined Columbia County EMS workers “breached the prevailing professional standard of care by failing to put the child in the ambulance on their first run and take him to the hospital for evaluation and treatment.” The expert noted the ambulance was equipped with oxygen, and had the child received said oxygen promptly, it was “more likely than not” he would have survived. The expert further testified although the child’s vital signs appeared stable to the first EMS responders, they should have spent more than 10 minutes observing the child. And in any event, EMS protocol dictates taking an infant to the hospital any time there is a report of “respiratory distress.”

Columbia County moved to exclude the expert’s testimony and dismiss the lawsuit. The trial court granted these motions, agreeing with the county the expert’s conclusions were “premised on speculation.” More specifically, the court said the expert had no basis for questioning the report of the first EMS responders the child’s vital signs were normal, indicating he was not in respiratory distress at that time.

But the Florida First District Court of Appeal overruled the trial court and reinstated the mother’s lawsuit. The appeals court noted there was sufficient evidence in the record to support the expert’s opinion. Notwithstanding the EMS report, there was testimony from the child’s babysitter regarding his symptoms, as well as his documented history of asthma and other breathing problems. In other words, the appeals court said, the expert’s opinion was not manufactured out of nothing; rather, it reflected his judgment interpreting all of the available information. At a minimum, the court held, a jury is entitled to assess the expert’s credibility for itself.

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer

This case illustrates the importance of expert testimony in establishing a malpractice claim. That is why if you or a family member have suffered due to a health care provider’s negligence, it is imperative you seek assistance from a qualified Clearwater personal injury attorney. Contact the Law Office of Paul B. Genet, P.A., if you would like to speak with someone today.

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