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An Expert Need Not Be A Specialist

September 15, 2017 By Erin H. Cancienne

Parties fight over the admissibility of expert opinions for various reasons.  Recently, in Levtias v. Christian, No. 58, September Term 2016 (July 11, 2017), the Court of Appeals considered whether a pediatrician’s testimony on lead poisoning causation was admissible.  The defendant asserted that the expert was not qualified to explain an IQ test administered by another doctor because the expert did not use the test in his own practice.  In addition, the defendant asserted that the expert lacked a sufficient factual basis because the expert did not perform his own examination of the Plaintiff.  While the trial court agreed with the defendant, the Court of Appeals ruled that the testimony was admissible.

To determine admissibility of an expert opinion, the court considers three factors: 1) whether the witness is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education; 2) the appropriateness of the expert testimony on the particular subject; and 3) whether a sufficient factual basis exists to support the expert testimony.  See, Maryland Rule 5-702.  When discussing experience and knowledge, the Court of Appeals clarified that the expert “does not need to have hands-on experience with the subject…”  A doctor, such as the pediatrician in this case, may be qualified to testify as a medical expert even though he does not have experience with a particular procedure or area of specialization.  An expert’s “reading can be assumed to constitute part of his general knowledge adequate to enable him to form a reasonable opinion of his own.”  Admissibility was not determined by whether the expert administers a test in his practice, or whether the expert actually examined the patient.

The court distinguished between the admissibility of the expert testimony and the value of that testimony.  Attacks on an expert’s training, expertise, or basis of knowledge go to the weight of the evidence, and not the admissibility.  The court noted that admitted opinions of an expert can be accepted or rejected by the finder of fact in determining the case.  While the court accurately stated the law, litigants should be wary of relying on the fact finder to reject an expert opinion without a competing expert. 
Practically speaking how does this affect litigation?  Parties should consider expert testimony being offered by both sides for both admissibility and weight.  For your own experts, litigants should consider whether a specialist is necessary and worthwhile, or whether a general expert could provide an admissible opinion.  For the opposing party’s experts, litigants should consider the expert’s qualifications both in terms of whether he is even minimally qualified, and in terms of whether his opinions can be challenged based on the threshold requirements of Rule 5-702.

Decisions regarding experts are complex matters with many factors to consider.  Our experienced attorneys can help litigants navigate the type of experts needed, and the best ways to bolster your own expert or challenge the opposing expert.  Please contact our office regarding any questions regarding expert opinions in your litigation.