In Minnesota, an expert witness does not need any particular medical degree or board-certification in any particular practice area in order to testify. The test is whether the expert has “occupational experience.” Cornfeldt v. Tongen, 262 N.W.2d 684 (Minn. 1977), citing Swanson v. Chatterton, 160 N.W.2d 662, 667 (Minn. 1968). In medical malpractice cases, the question for any witness to opine on the standard of care is whether the witness has “a practical knowledge of what is usually and customarily done by physicians under circumstances similar to those which confronted the defendant charged with malpractice….” Id. at 692-3.
Malpractice plaintiffs often run into an argument that they need to match specialties (e.g., a spine surgeon should be retained to testify as to the standard of care for a spine surgeon defendant) but in Minnesota this is not required. If the witness has the occupational experience to be competent to testify about the standard, he or she should be allowed to testify about it. Cornfeldt is the case to review on this issue and is still good law. This is a Minnesota Supreme Court decision overturning a trial court on the highly deferential abuse of discretion standard for preventing a nurse anesthetist from testifying as to the standard of care for a medical doctor anesthesiologist:
“Thus Keith was not disqualified from testifying solely because he was not a licensed physician or because he did not graduate from medical school and had received only the training of a registered nurse anesthetist. If Keith otherwise had sufficient scientific and practical experience about the matter to which he would have testified, he would have been a competent expert witness.” Id. at 697
Practitioners should be advised that while they could get to the jury with an expert who does not necessarily match specialties with the defendant, they should still consider doing so because any deficits in education or certifications can be fertile ground for cross-examination. But the reality is that many medical specialties are tight social networks and it can be difficult to get any member of the club to review a potential claim against another member – regardless of how egregious the care may have been.