As medical malpractice cases become more common and expert witnesses are almost always needed, you may find yourself preparing a physician for a deposition. Whether the physician has been subpoenaed or contacted for expert testimony, the following are some important things to bring up during witness preparation:
If the physician has been asked to appear as an expert witness, they are entitled to compensation. Some physicians are reluctant to broach the subject of fees immediately; therefore, it is important that you are upfront about compensation. Financial disputes can quickly get messy, and you may find yourself without a witness if the terms of the appearance are unclear.
It’s not easy for a physician to testify, particularly if their actions may have led to the pain or death of a patient. When preparing for the deposition, don’t hold back! If you suspect that the opposing counsel is going to attack the physician personally and professionally, make sure the physician is prepared. Demeanor during testimony is particularly important for expert witnesses, who risk losing credibility if they are arrogant, rude, or argumentative. Share these expectations with the testifying physician so that they understand the importance of a calm, professional attitude.
Medical school requires intense mental effort, long nights of studying, and plenty of advanced preparation. Be sure to discuss appropriate study tactics with the testifying physician. You’ll need to establish case review guidelines to avoid over or under preparing. The physician will be asked to recount details of patient treatment or recall chart details; therefore, it is critical that they prepare that information. As a rule of thumb, physicians should only review medical charts and any information concerning their role in patient care.
Many physicians are naturally inquisitive and prone to speculation. When these traits appear in an unprepared witness, they are easily exploited by the opposing counsel. Physicians must be informed of testimony guidelines before appearing, or you will risk sabotaging your case. Generally, physicians should comment only on their areas of expertise and avoid providing additional information. Opposing counsel may try to bait the witness into making an erroneous statement that could lead to impeachment.
At the end of the day, any physician can be a great deposition witness with the right preparation! When you take the time to go over these topics with the physician, you’ll increase the likelihood that the deposition will go smoothly.