How Attorneys Can Best Utilize Their Medical Expert Witnesses #4

In How Attorneys Can Best Utilize Their Medical Expert Witness: A Medical Expert’s Perspective, Dr. Vernon M. Neppe MD, PhD, FRSSAf, FAPA, writes that expert witness testimony depends on finding an appropriate match for your case. This excerpt deals with the preliminaries of retaining an expert.

Choosing a medical expert consultant requires critical evaluations of numerous features beyond obvious medical expertise. This is even more so for the key witnesses in a case. Medical experts need to be located, assessed for preliminary suitability, retained and later declared as an expert. The procedure is very active to maximize the value of your medical expert consultant. Once one has decided that a particular expert is the logical one to retain, one has to assess the match of the medical aspects of a case with the expert’s suitability in the context of the opinions (s)he will express. This means that retaining an expert does not mean a commitment to proceed with that expert through the case.

A carefully worded pre-retaining phase may ensue where the attorney very briefly describes the key facts in the case. The expert usually will not be able to express an opinion at that stage. Sometimes, however, I have been able to indicate to attorneys that the particular case does not fall within my experience range or my expertise; and at times, I indicate the converse.

The attorney must ensure that it cannot be claimed that the expert formed his / her opinion from the attorney or was unduly influenced by the attorney. Consequently, more commonly, this means initially giving the expert preliminary key documents about the case and obtaining feedback, generally oral, from the expert as to preliminary opinions. Such an early step may save substantial costs if the expert is not regarded as appropriate for the particular case as a full review of documents could take many, many hours and yet the key elements could be assessed in two or three.

More to follow on assisting civil litigation attorneys with medical experts from Dr. Neppe, Director, Pacific Neuropsychiatric Institute, Seattle, WA,