Experts that are Qualified to Testify on Standard of Care

In a medical negligence action, the defendant’s conduct must be measured against “that degree of care, skill, and learning expected of a reasonably prudent health care provider at that time in the profession or class to which he belongs, in the state of Washington, acting in the same or similar circumstances.” RCW 7.70.040(1).
In Morton v. McFall, 115 P.3d 1023 at 1027 (2005) the Washington Court of Appeals, Division 1 explains the rule regarding the standard of care:  “The standard of care required of professional practitioners “must be established by the testimony of experts who practice in the same field.”  McKee v. American Home Products Corp., 113 Wn.2d 701, 706, 782 P.2d 1045 (1989).  In order to testify on the applicable standard of care, “a physician must demonstrate that he or she has sufficient expertise in the relevant specialty.  Young v. Key Pharms., Inc., 112 Wash.2d 216, 229, 770 P.2d 182 (1989).  However, to practice “in the same field” means that “a pharmacist may not define the standard of care for a physician (Young); and that a physician may not do so for a pharmacist (McKee).  There is no general rule that prohibits a specialist from testifying regarding the standard of care applicable to a general practitioner; or a specialist in one area from testifying about another area.” Morton, at 1027;  White v. Kent Medical Ctr., Inc., 61 Wn.App. 163, 173, 810 P.2d 4 (1991); Eng v. Klein, 127 Wn.App. 171, 172, 110 P.3d 844, 845 (2005)(“It is the scope of a witness’s knowledge and not artificial classification by professional title that governs the threshold question of admissibility of expert medical testimony in a malpractice case.”).

The court went on to explain that “…. so long as a physician with a medical degree has sufficient expertise to demonstrate familiarity with the procedure or medical problem at issue, ordinarily the physician ‘will be considered qualified to express an opinion on any sort of medical question including questions in areas in which the physician is not a specialist.'” Morton, at 1027, citing White, 61 Wn.App. at 173, (quoting 5A Karl Tegland, Washington Practice, Evidence § 290[2], at 386 (3rd Ed. 1989)).  The court concluded that “[n]o hard and fast rule requires testimony on the standard of care in a medical negligence action to come from a physician who has the same specialty as the defendant…” Morton, at 1024.

But also see Helling v. Carey for an interesting case where the standard of care set by experts in the field of ophthalmology stated that a glaucoma test was unnecessary, the court of appeals affirmed, but the supreme court overturned the court of appeals and ruled there was negligence as a matter of law based on the facts irrespective of what the experts in the field opined.  The supreme court essentially imparted strict liability and reasoned that the social benefit, even without moral wrongdoing or error by the defendant, outweighed any unfairness.

Expert Services we use

AMFS – American Medical Forensic Specialist