The Authority of an Expert Opinion in Medical Malpractice Litigation
The Authority of an Expert Opinion in Medical Malpractice Litigation: Expert opinions in litigation aim to shed light on a matter presented in a case and assist the court in its understanding the matter presented by applying knowledge of a specific study to the facts of the case. Expert opinions are extremely important, as they are often taken into consideration by a court in its ruling. Expert opinions may therefore lead the court to rule in favor of one party over another.
The purpose of this article is to examine the authority of the expert opinions of the High Committee on Medical Liability in medical malpractice litigation in the U.A.E.
Federal Law no. 10 of 2008 on Medical Liability regulates the liability of medical practitioners in the United Arab Emirates. Article 15 of the Federal Law no. 10 of 2008 established the High Committee on Medical Liability (the â€œCommitteeâ€), which is made up of consultant physicians selected by the Cabinet. â€œThe Committee members are from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Justice, the Health Authority Abu Dhabi, the Health Authority Dubai, a professor from the School of Medicine, the Armed Forces Medical Services Directorate, the Ministry of the Interior Medical Services Directorate, Emirates Medical Association, and the private medical sector.â€
The Committee serves as a body of medical experts and it provides opinions upon the request of the public prosecution office, a competent court or a medical body. The Committeeâ€™s report should address whether a medical error and harm had occurred and whether there is causation between the culpable act and harm.
Due to the composition of the Committee, as well as how it is established and appointed by the Cabinet, one may consider that the Committee shall provide a holistic and accurate medical opinion. The composition also brands the Committee as the most legitimate source of medical opinion since it was established by a federal law, unlike other experts who are appointed by the courts.
This cloak of legitimacy given to the Committee, in my opinion, led various judges to consider the Committeeâ€™s reports as the authority on the subject matter which should override any other report.
Appeal no. 48-63-70/2013 (The U.A.E. Supreme Court)
This case involves charges filed against a gynecologist for medical malpractice which was filed before the competent criminal court and a court of first instance in Abu Dhabi.
The Court of First Instance requested the Committee to provide a report on the facts of the case. The Committeeâ€™s report concluded that the gynecologist had committed medical malpractice. In the meantime, the gynecologist submitted three expert opinion reports prepared by the head of the medical liability department of the Ministry of Health, the Medical Committee of Dubai Health Authority and a medical consultant. All three reports concluded that the report submitted by the Committee was inaccurate and that there was no medical malpractice committed by the Respondent. Furthermore, the three reports concluded that the harm caused to the claimant was due to medical complications recognized within the medical community.
However, the Court of First Instance relied on the Committeeâ€™s report and ignored reports submitted by the gynecologist. In relying on the Committeeâ€™s report, the Court of First Instance ruled that the gynecologist had committed medical malpractice and decided to compensate the Claimant (the patient) for damages. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Court of First Instanceâ€™s ruling and the gynecologist appealed the Court of Appealsâ€™ ruling. The case was heard by the Supreme Court of Abu Dhabi.
The Supreme Court explained that the Committee is merely a body of experts in the medical profession and its opinion should be treated by the court as any other expert opinion report.
The Supreme Court also added that relying only on the Committeeâ€™s report and ignoring other reports submitted by the gynecologist is an error in examining evidence. Furthermore, the Supreme Court pointed out that a report submitted by the Committee should not be considered as exclusive evidence. This means that a court should not dismiss other expert reports submitted by one party to the litigation just because such reports contradict the conclusions in the Committeeâ€™s report.
In conclusion, the Supreme Court of the United Arab Emirates set an important precedent in that a committee established by law, such as the High Committee on Medical Liability, should not viewed as the supreme authority and should not override other reports in weighing the evidence in a court of law.