“Medical Expert Witness,” California Lawyer Magazine, Nov 2009
By: Bruce Wapen, MD, FACEP
What is the benefit of an expert to the legal profession? It is that expert’s ability to explain obscure or technical information and concepts to attorneys, judge, and jury in a way that makes that information understandable. The more jargon that a field of endeavor employs, the more necessary the expert becomes. Given that, medicine is a prime example of a discipline that requires a qualified expert to provide translation and interpretation. Physicians speak a different language from ordinary people. Their vocabulary is so specialized that even doctors from different fields of medicine may have difficulty communicating with each other. The role of the medical expert is to paint a picture of the problem or process that will make it easy for everyone to understand without the use of incomprehensible terminology.
Medicine is all about specialized vocabulary. Mastery of the words indicates understanding of the concepts that underlie them. Translating “medicalese” into common English is what doctors do when they explain a diagnosis to a patient, but many physicians are not very good at doing that. It takes a teacher, but in this case, one who is facile with medical jargon and is also good at translating those words, and the concepts they represent, into simple English. The medical experts in this directory pride themselves in their ability to do that.
Of course, it goes beyond the words alone. It involves the ability to explain complex concepts and procedures. Despite the plethora of TV shows and movies about medicine (and even forensic medicine), the lay public remains uninformed or misinformed. So, it is the medical expert who must portray the reality of the medical experience in all of its detail and complexity while enabling the listeners to “see” the issues as the physicians involved in the case did, or should have.
Now, join this ability of the expert to paint a word-picture of the medical issues with his/her appreciation of the legal needs of the attorney and court. Who did what? What practitioner had the responsibility of care? Was a standard of care violated? Was the patient really harmed? Did an act of negligence cause that harm? Can the expert credibly support his/her opinions in a report or affidavit? Can the expert present well in the theater of deposition and trial?
The experts who list themselves in this directory are the medical professionals who have the experience and training to provide the services that legal professionals are looking for. Their familiarity with how the legal system works, their extensive knowledge in their own fields of expertise, and their ability to communicate as teachers, make them indispensable in the medical-legal arena.