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Can midwives testify against nurses in birth injury cases?

In medical malpractice cases, expert testimony is critically important. After all, an expert must testify as to the standard of care expected out of a medical professional and what a reasonable physician, nurse or attendant should have (or would have) done in a given situation. As such, a surgeon would likely serve as an expert witness in a matter involving a surgical mistake. A sports medicine physician would likely testify in a matter involving an athlete’s malpractice claim.

When it comes to malpractice cases involving birth injuries, would it be appropriate to have a midwife testify about the expectations of nurses in a delivery room? The Georgia Court of Appeals recently dealt with this question, and found that it would be proper for a licensed midwife to testify about the conduct and expectations of attending nurses.

At issue was whether the nurses were negligent when misinterpreting a fetus’ vitals before birth. The baby experienced a period of prolonged oxygen deprivation during labor, causing it to be born with severe brain damage.

After the plaintiff was awarded more than $13 million in damages, the hospital appealed, arguing that the midwife who testified was not qualified to render a professional opinion about the nurses since she was not one herself, and that her experience as a midwife was insufficient. However, the court ruled that the midwife had extensive experience, including being a registered nurse before completing additional training to become a certified midwife. She had spent a number of years working closely with registered nurses as part of a labor team.

While the case itself does not carry much weight in New York, it is a reminder that professionals with experience may be useful witnesses even if they are not exactly in the same field.

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