Physicians as “Expert Witnesses”
During a trial, the jury’s opinions and impressions about the case are critical. One of the things I learned from my most recent trial was how the jurors weighed the testimony of expert witnesses.
In a malpractice case, the plaintiff will have her experts; the defendant physician will have his. In a lot of cases, jurors will conclude that it is a “tie” because both sides had an expert to back up their case. For a plaintiff, who bears the burden of proof, a “tie” is actually a loss.
This is important because the “tie-breaker” is often the defendant physician himself. Not only does he testify about the factual circumstances of the treatment, but he often goes far beyond that, testifying as an expert on his own behalf.
In a recent decision, a Connecticut appeals court discussed the proper scope of testimony for a defendant physician who is essentially acting as an additional expert witness on his own behalf. It is a valuable reminder of how important it is to be well-prepared for examining doctors who are acting not only as factual witnesses, but as medical experts. A malpractice lawyer needs to be familiar not only with the legal aspects of the case, but also have a strong understanding of the medical issues, relevant literature, and prevailing standards of care.