Six Thoughts After Testifying At A Medical Malpractice Trial

Thu, 10/03/2013 - 2:18pm
Robert Centor, M.D.

A few weeks ago I was an expert witness in a malpractice trial. In this post I will use generalities and specifically not reveal any details of the patient or the court case. I first became involved in this process several years ago. My involvement included a deposition, reviewing medical records, reviewing other expert depositions, discussing the patient’s most unfortunate story with lawyers for two different defendants, and finally testifying. This most unfortunate patient died but I do not believe that the defendants did anything wrong. The jury agreed.

1. We need special health courts. The jury process induces lawyers to couch their words, use sophistry, and work hard to present part of the story. This is clearly true for both the defendant and the plaintiff legal teams. If we had special health courts, then we could have a nuanced discussion of all the details of patient care. A jury trial leads lawyers to focus on details and try to “make mountains out of mole hills”.

2. Testifying is hard work. As physicians we try to consider both sides of every decision. We struggle over decision-making and regularly second guess ourselves. In testimony, we must become precise and clear.

3. Some physicians will testify in cases about which they really understand little. Reading the depositions of some other physicians saddened me. Physician experts get paid very well (yes, I was paid very well). Money does influence potential experts.

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