There’s a definite correlation between the size of personal injury verdicts and the effectiveness of testimony by medical experts. Well-prepared and well-presented medical testimony carries weight and convinces triers of fact. The recent $289 million verdict against Monsanto may be an example.
Although television and the Internet have made today’s judges and jurors more sophisticated about medical terminology and concepts, they still depend on the testimony of medical doctors for a clear and authoritative picture of a plaintiff’s injuries and their effect on his or her life.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers use medical experts to show:
- The existence, nature, and extent of injuries;
- The causal connection between the claimed injuries and the accident in which those injuries occurred;
- The duration and degree of disability and suffering and their probable future course;
- The necessity for past and probable future treatment; and
- The amount and reasonableness of charges for treatment. In medical malpractice cases, expert medical testimony is also used to establish that a defendant’s conduct failed to meet the applicable medical standard.
Defense lawyers use medical witnesses to:
- Refute false, exaggerated, and unsound claims of injury;
- Show the absence of a causal connection between claimed injuries and a defendant’s alleged misconduct;
- Point out the probabilities for rehabilitation; and
- Provide a more conservative assessment of a plaintiff’s medical needs than the plaintiff likely presented.
Doctors often testify more comfortably when they follow a standard sequence that parallels the general order of clinical examinations and medical report forms, i.e., stating qualifications and the reason for seeing the patient, recounting the patient’s medical history, describing observations of the patient and reports, and stating opinions and the reasons for them.
Attorneys can vary this standard sequence to give the medical testimony greater impact. For example, it may be more effective to have the doctor:
- State one or more opinions and then describe matters such as the patient’s history and conduct of the examination to show the reasons for his or her conclusions;
- Give conclusions from each separate piece of information as the doctor describes his or her examination and findings; or
- Answer questions about each separate item of injury, showing the nature, causes, and probable duration of each injury and the information that led to those determinations.
Expert medical testimony isn’t required in all personal injury cases, but it’s nearly always valuable. The plaintiff and other lay witnesses often can adequately describe the nature and extent of a plaintiff’s injuries, and hospital records and medical reports can be used to supply medical evidence. But most experienced trial lawyers consider it unwise to try personal injury cases without calling a medical expert.
For everything you need to know about using medical experts at trial, turn to CEB’s California Personal Injury Proof, chap 6. For a comprehensive guide to using expert witnesses, check out CEB’s California Expert Witness Guide.
Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:
- Do You Need an Expert Witness, and If So, What Type?
- Mining for Gold in Medical Records: Five Tips for Defense Counsel
- Get Your Expert Involved with the Evidence
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