A lawyer representing one of your patients has asked you to testify in court concerning the injury you treated. What does the lawyer expect of you? What can you expect of the lawyer?
The context here is testimony in court before a jury in a personal injury lawsuit (not a deposition in a workers compensation claim, which will be the subject of a future article).
Jury trials require live testimony by court appearance or via video taped questioning at a deposition to be played for the jury at the trial. This differs from the written reports and taped and transcribed question and answer sessions which may be used in arbitrations.
Presenting a case in court is 90% preparation. You should insist that the lawyer provide in advance all relevant medical records which you may possibly be questioned about, so you are not surprised. We try to provide all records well enough in advance so witnesses may review them at their convenience prior to their pretrial conferences.
If a pre-trial conference is not initiated by the attorney, you should ask to meet with the attorney a few days before the trial to review your testimony and any questions you may have. This conference should not be on the day testimony is to be given, since problems may arise during the conference and there may not be enough time to obtain new information which may be needed so you can be comfortable giving your testimony.
You can expect to be asked about these things: – the history you received-, what the injuries were, your diagnosis; – the treatment you provided/prescribed; – your prognosis; – is any aspect of the injuries permanent? and – the medical charges: that they are reasonable in amount and that they were necessary to treat the injury.
Since it is simply not economical to bring in every medical provider, please be flexible in speaking about bill amounts with which you are not totally familiar. Of course, if you have a concern about something, use your own resources in the medical community or ask the lawyer for more information.
It is important to keep in mind as you testify that you are not talking to your medical colleagues, nor to a well-informed legal professional. You are talking to twelve people very much like your patients. Tailor your presentation to educating the jury on what happened to your patient as a result of the accident.
As to scheduling, the attorney should be able to give you a specific time when you will testify. Local courts are usually willing to accommodate physicians’ schedules and break the planned sequence of witnesses, rather than have doctors sitting around waiting.
Concerning payment, you can insist on payment in advance. This is advisable with attorneys with whom you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable. The charge for your testimony will ultimately be passed along to the patient, but you should be paid by the attorney and not told that you have to look to your patient for payment directly.
Be prepared to be challenged. In most cases, the insurance company will have hired its own doctor to minimize your patient’s injuries. Therefore, you must realize that – while you are not expected to advocate an opinion you do not believe in –your patient’s case will only be viable if you stick to the opinion that you do believe in.
Your patient’s case is best presented, and you are less likely to be made to look foolish and lacking credibility, if you know and stand by your position, rather than waffling and seeming to be ready and willing to agree with whatever either lawyer says. In short, be prepared to defend and explain your opinion when cross-examined. You are the expert, so act like one.
This article was prepared by Dennis H. Black