In Oregon and most states, the trial court is given flexibility and discretion in deciding whether to approve a certain witness as a medical expert. In a medical malpractice case, it is generally desirable for the expert to be experienced in the specific medical issue in dispute. However, that principle may be interpreted in a more general sense to qualify physicians who are proved to be experienced in the broader area of medicine being disputed.

In one case, the highest court of another state ruled in favor of qualifying the plaintiff's expert medical witness to testify. A lower appellate court had ruled that a surgeon who does "open" umbilical hernia operations regularly was not qualified to testify as an expert regarding the procedures involved in laparoscopic hernia repair. The Supreme Court reversed and held unanimously that the physician was qualified because he regularly performed umbilical repair  hernia operations and laparoscopic abdominal surgeries.  

Thus, the trial court had ruled correctly in approving the surgeon as an expert even though he had not performed the exact surgery at issue in recent years. The Georgia Supreme Court also explained that the nature of the opinions the expert plans to give should be examined to see if the physician is qualified to give them. The decision is important in reaffirming that there is a degree of leeway involved in the decision whether to qualify a witness as an expert.

The decision will generally help plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases in Oregon and other states. Although the case is not controlling in Oregon, the fact that it comes from the Supreme Court of a populous state gives it a certain amount of influence. The fact that the decision was unanimous makes it even more influential.

Source:, "Georgia Justices Side With Plaintiffs Over Med-Mal Expert Qualifications", Alyson Palmer, July 20, 2015