The Nursing Expert Witness Part 1

In The Expert Nurse Witness, Ellen K. Murphy writes:

Expert nurse witnesses typically are needed whenever the adequacy of another nurse’s actions are in question. Usually, this occurs in disciplinary proceedings against a nurse licensee before an administrative law judge or in malpractice cases where the actions of the nurse are alleged to have contributed to a patient’s injury. For decades, most courts accepted that physicians had the necessary expertise to explain standards of nursing. More recently, it has been recognized that testimony about what a nurse should have done best comes from another nurse. For example, in 1958, a California court allowed a physician to testify about what nurses should have done saying, “Surely a qualified doctor would know what was standard procedure of nurses to follow” (Goff v Doctor’s Hospital, 166 CalApp2d 314, 319 [1958]).

Fourteen years later, a Pennsylvania court recognized that a physician might not be the best expert on nursing standards, but it still allowed physicians’ testimony to be admitted because, “all areas of medical expertise within the knowledge of nurses are also within the knowledge of medical doctors” (Taylor v Spencer Hospital, 292 A2d 449, 452 [Pa Super 1972]). Finally, in 2004, an Illinois court explicitly held that a physician was not qualified to testify as to the standard of care for the nursing profession under the laws of the state of Illinois (Sullivan v Edward Hospital, 806 NE2d 645 [Ill 2004]). Along with this increasing judicial recognition of the unique body of nursing knowledge comes an increased responsibility for nurses to be willing to share their expertise with lay legal decision makers; however, they must do so within the context of the unfamiliar, adversarial legal system.