A recent Illinois appellate court case discusses the expert witness requirements in medical malpractice actions. The holding comes as no surprise to experienced Chicago medical malpractice lawyers: a doctor is not considered qualified to testify concerning the “standard of care” of a nurse in a medical negligence action.
In the case, Smith v. Pavlovich, M.D., et al., No. 5-08-0256 (Ill. App. Ct. 5th Dist., Sep. 10, 2009), a three-year-old girl died at the age of 3 from what was diagnosed as meningitis. Her mother filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against two doctors and a registered nurse, alleging that the defendants negligently failed to recommend and administer Prevnar, a vaccine which may have prevented the bacterial meningitis from causing her daughter’s death.
Prior to the girl’s death, she was a patient at the Carbondale Clinic on six separate occasions and on each occasion, she was only seen by the defendant nurse. She never saw either of the defendant doctors. At trial, the court rejected the attempt of the plaintiff’s medical malpractice attorney to have its expert witness, a doctor, testify as to the standard of care applicable to registered nurses. The appellate court affirmed.
The court noted the well-established rule that to testify as an expert on the standard of care for a given school of medicine, the expert “must be licensed therein.” In other words, a practitioner of one school of medicine (i.e. a doctor) is not qualified to testify as an expert in a medical malpractice action against a practitioner of another school of medicine (i.e. a nurse). Citing Sullivan v. Edward Hospital, 209 Ill. 2d 100 (Ill. 2004).
The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the nurse was acting as a pediatrician with respect to the decadent and that therefore a physician specializing in pediatrics was qualified to testify about the standard of care applicable to the nurse. Furthermore, the appellate court affirmed the dismissals of the defendant doctors because neither doctor ever examined, treated or even saw the decedent as a patient.
This case stresses the importance of choosing experts wisely in medical malpractice actions, and making sure you have an expert qualified to testify concerning the standard of care applicable to each defendant. Had the plaintiff’s medical malpractice lawyer retained a registered nurse to testify as an expert witness concerning the defendant nurse’s deviation from the standard of care, a jury would have been able to decide whether the nurse’s malpractice caused the plaintiff’s daughter’s death.
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