Legal Memorandum: Expert Testimony in Medical Malpractice Cases

Issue: Under Iowa law, when bringing a cause of action against a physician or other medical professional, to what extent must the plaintiff’s claim be supported by expert testimony?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Medical malpractice; Expert testimony; Knowledge of medical problem and treatment
Jurisdiction: Iowa
Cited Cases: 482 N.W.2d 437; 477 N.W.2d 396; 494 N.W.2d 248; 485 N.W.2d 645
Cited Statutes: Iowa Code § 147.139
Date: 02/01/2001

           If the standard of care of a physician, surgeon or dentist is at issue, Iowa law permits only testimony on the appropriate standard of care by an expert who has qualifications related directly to the medical problem at issue and the type of treatment administered.  Iowa Code § 147.139 (1989); Welte v. Bello, 482 N.W.2d 437, 439 (Iowa 1992).  The admission of expert testimony rests within the sound discretion of the trial court.  Tappe ex rel. Tappe v. Iowa Methodist Medical Ctr., 477 N.W.2d 396, 402 (Iowa 1991).  The Iowa Supreme Court, however, has made it clear that it is committed to a liberal rule on the admissibility of expert opinion testimony in medical malpractice actions.  See, e.g., Wick v. Henderson, 485 N.W.2d 645, 648 (Iowa 1992) (a physician need not be a specialist in a particular field of medicine to give an expert opinion).

In Wick, the trial court directed a defendants’ verdict in a medical malpractice case against an anesthesiologist, the professional corporation that employed the anesthesiologist, and the hospital where the plaintiff underwent gall bladder surgery.  Id. at 646.  During the surgery, the plaintiff allegedly sustained a permanent injury to the ulnar nerve located in her upper left arm.  She sought recovery for her damages on theories of specific negligence and res ipsa loquitur against the three defendants.  Id. at 647.

At trial, the plaintiff presented the testimony of a neurologist on the applicable standard of care.  Id.  The neurologist testified that it was […]

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