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Vision Loss Claims and Expert Fees

Did you know it is common for ophthalmologists to charge literally thousands of dollars for their testimony? Many demand large non-refundable retainers. I handled a case in which the ophthalmologist’s written policy calls for a charge of $3,000 for a one-hour deposition. For each additional hour or part thereof, the fee is $2,000. If the deposition takes one hour and one minute, the doctor expects to be paid $5,000. For in-court trial testimony, the fee is even higher. This doctor charges $5,000 for a half day court appearance and $10,000 for a full day appearance. This is typical of vision loss doctors who testify in the Philadelphia area.

This doctor also charges an additional $750 for any time spent with a lawyer preparing for the deposition. If the deposition is canceled “for any reason whatsoever, these fees are not refundable.” These charges are ultimately the client’s responsibility, although typically the lawyer pays the doctor and is reimbursed at the time of settlement or verdict. How do they get away with this? Simple. The doctors know that the client and lawyer need them and have no alternative but to pay. The only other option is for the lawyer to refer the client to another doctor who charges less. Unfortunately, this exposes the client and the new doctor to potentially devastating cross-examination at trial. The opposing lawyer may suggest the client went shopping for a medical opinion because the client’s first doctor believed the injuries were exaggerated and/or not caused by the accident.

Medical and other expert testimony is often presented to the jury on videotape. Doctors’ schedules are busy and the course of a personal injury trial is so unpredictable that lawyers would rather have a videotape “in the can” than rely on the doctor’s availability for live testimony. The stresses and strains of a jury trial can be immense. The additional pressure of balancing a doctor’s schedule against a judge’s insistence on moving the case forward is something a trial lawyer wishes to avoid. The judge may not be willing to wait for the doctor to arrive in court. Having videotaped testimony ready for use at the lawyer’s convenience greatly relieves this pressure. Video depositions are typically taken in the doctors’ office, at a time that is convenient for the doctor.

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 20 minutes for direct testimony, since it is difficult for the average juror to focus this long. The most important points must be made at the beginning while the lawyer has the jury’s attention. This holds true for live testimony as well, but it is especially important for taped testimony because it is harder to focus on.

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