St. Mary's Law Journal


Zollie Steakley


An ordinary function of the jury in our legal system is to determine questions of fact. Although issues are less difficult when common knowledge and lay judgment are adequate, the field of medicine is an area in which the jury may be assisted by expert testimony. Courts allow the admission of expert medical testimony to assist jurors to show important aspects of a case, including physical condition, the cause of injury, the effect and probable future consequences of an injury or disease, and the cause of death. However, such testimonies are not binding upon the trier of fact unless they totally lack the knowledge and experience required to deal competently with a subject. As such, the judiciary is confronted with the issue of determining the areas where expert testimony is required and the standards such testimony must meet. Because evidence in a case must demonstrate reasonable probability of future consequences of an injury, expert testimony cannot be conjecture as to what may possibly ensue from a given scenario. Courts are also confronted with the perplexing problem of determining when medical testimony is required on questions of causation. The different approaches taken by physicians and lawyers for determining causation create problems when expert medical testimony is required to determine legal liability. Another area that expert medical testimony is necessary involves cases of medical professional liability. The jury may determine what a reasonably prudent doctor would have done under the same or similar circumstances only after being advised on the medical standards of practice and treatment. Because of the complexities involved in field of medicine, courts must carefully determine when to allow admission of expert medical testimony to ensure the trier of fact has the proper knowledge moving forward.


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