Academy of Chiropractic Personal Injury & Primary Spine Care Program
Quickie Consult 154
“The Chiropractor as Expert on the Witness Stand”
Last week, I was an expert for a lawyer after doing a P-IME in August, 2009, 8 months ago. An interesting thing happened on the witness stand. I was on the stand over the course of 2 days, a total of 5 hours, being questioned and cross-examined. My expectation was that the bulk of the questions were going to be on what was wrong with the patient, as that has been my experience in my many times testifying in the past.
When the patient’s (plaintiff's) lawyer started asking me questions, he started in the usual place, my credentials as an expert to testify. We went from undergraduate education on up. This process usually takes 30-45 minutes, as I explain each level of my education to solidify in the jury’s mind that I really know my stuff and my testimony is credible. The lawyer, at this point, took a very interesting approach. He went on to ask me about the MRI courses I had taken and then asked me, based upon my credentials, to explain what MRI is and how it works. He did the same thing for EMG and x-ray.
He read my CV and saw in the citations listed for the PI Bootcamp and the MRI Spine Interpretation Course, detailed coursework in many areas. It was those sections that caused him to ask me the detailed questions and I hadn’t spoken to him previously about this. His preparation instructions were to simply be prepared to answer detailed questions about my CV.
I had a blast! I got to educate the jury on MRI, EMG, x-rays, etc. Please understand that I also didn’t wing it. I spent hours reviewing every document of every doctor the patient had seen prior to the trial. I looked up terms and conditions and findings that I wasn’t 100% sure how to explain to a jury. I didn’t look things up so that I could understand them; I spent hours researching them and then articulating out loud how I would explain them to a jury in simplistic terms. To me, there should be no um’s, pauses or deep sighs in front of the jury which could give them the impression that I don't know what I am talking about.
There were 2 separate issues that were asked of me that I wasn’t 100% sure of before my preparation. Being prepared means being prepared about everything. We spent over 90 minutes of my 3 hours on direct questioning going over my CV. By the time we were done, the jury knew conclusively that I knew my stuff and was a true expert on those issues.
The lawyer accomplished everything he set out to do. When the time came for the defense (insurance company) lawyer to cross-examine me, he did not ask me 1 question on my credentials. ZERO, ZIP, NADA, ZILCH!
In the past, I have always gotten questions like, “Are you a radiologist? Are you a neurologist? Are you an orthopedic surgeon?” The patient’s lawyer shared with me afterwards that because my explanation of my credentials and the explanations that accompanied the credentials were so strong, the defense lawyer didn’t want the jury to continue to hear my knowledge base as an expert and refused to go there. The defense lost its opportunity to discredit me and that is a huge tactic to have taken away in court.
This was the biggest issue for the patient’s lawyer in choosing me as an expert when he first asked me to do the P-IME. As a chiropractor, you are not an orthopedic surgeon, a neurologist, a radiologist or a neurosurgeon. You are a chiropractor and that is as powerful as any other specialty...if your credentials are as powerful as the other specialties. Remember, the culture of medicine is to have a powerful CV that is in admissible format and every minute detail is documented. Understand that organized medicine has created the need for a CV at this level so that doctors can get inclusion into residency programs and fellowships. That is the competition and if you have earned the appropriate credentials, you can compete and win.