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Medical Testimony in Personal Injury Litigation


Next your lawyer might move to the medical evidence. Your doctors testify about the injuries suffered, the treatment, the diagnosis, the causal relationship between the accident and the injuries, the amount of pain such injuries cause, and the prognosis for the future. If you had to have surgery, that will be examined in great detail. Perhaps plastic models of the affected body part will be used to make the testimony more interesting and understandable to the jury. If future treatment or surgery is required, the doctor may offer his or her opinion regarding the nature, duration, and expense of this treatment and surgery.

The defense lawyer on cross-examination seeks to discredit the doctor or his or her opinions. For example, if the doctor treats a lot of plaintiffs, the lawyer will imply that this prejudices the doctor and that his or her opinions are slanted. Or the lawyer may confront your doctor with medical journals that support conclusions different than those he or she reached. The cross examination of any witness is limited only by the lawyer’s imagination.

It is difficult for a lawyer to completely discredit a doctor in a jury’s eyes. Juries often feel that since the doctor was educated in medicine and the lawyer in law, the doctor’s view of the injuries must prevail over the lawyer’s suggestions. Nevertheless, skillful cross-examination of the doctor can cast doubt on his or her testimony. That is generally the most that the defense lawyer can hope for. Similarly, when the insurance company’s medical expert testifies, your lawyer is generally satisfied if he or she has cast some doubt on the doctor’s opinion. Any chinks in the doctor’s armor created during cross-examination become grist for the lawyer’s mill during closing argument.

Medical and other expert testimony is often presented to the jury on videotape. Doctors’ schedules are so busy and the course of a personal injury trial so unpredictable, that lawyers would rather have a videotape than rely on the doctor’s availability for live testimony. The stresses and strains of a jury trial are immense. The additional pressure of balancing a doctor’s schedule against a judge’s insistence on moving the case forward is something the trial lawyer wishes to avoid. Having videotaped testimony ready for use at the lawyer’s convenience greatly relieves this pressure.

Unfortunately, videotaped testimony is much less interesting than live testimony. Trial lawyers die a thousand deaths as they watch the jurors’ eyes glaze over during important taped medical testimony. Smart PI lawyers keep videotapes short, preferably about twenty minutes in length, since it is difficult for the average juror to continue to closely focus for a longer period of time. The most important points must be made right at the beginning while the lawyer has the jury’s attention.

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