Saturday, January 15, 2005

Unethical Expert Witnesses

Here are some interesting comments from Francis J. Collini, M.D., a plastic surgeon practicing in Shavertown, Pa., who writes in Physician's News Digest about unethical "expert" witnesses. (


Lawsuits against physicians, frivolous or not, would not be filed unless one doctor is willing to testify against another doctor, under oath, for money. You won’t hear lawyers talking about this because they are afraid that doctors will catch on to this "dirty little secret" and lean on their fellow physicians to stop testifying against one another. This could put the malpractice legal system out of business or substantially reduce the number of malpractice cases. You won’t hear doctors talking publicly about this problem because many are embarrassed by their colleagues’ behavior.

Doctors who, under oath, distort medical facts and medical records for the sole purpose of making money are the fuel that sparks the fire of the malpractice crisis. And it works both ways-plaintiff and defendant. Without physicians testifying against other physicians, greedy attorneys would have no cases, judges would hear no frivolous lawsuits and juries would not have to make decisions regarding medical facts that they know little about. Try to find a lawyer who will sue another lawyer. It’s real tough. There is an unwritten law among lawyers that simply states that they will not rat on a fellow colleague. No such unwritten law exists among fellow physicians. If the price is right, some unethical physicians will sell their soul and hence, their integrity to the devil.

I was recently victorious in a medical malpractice lawsuit filed against me in Philadelphia by a patient who I operated on in Wilkes-Barre. Despite the fact that the venue laws have changed in Pennsylvania, I had to travel to Philadelphia twice daily for seven working days to fight this lawsuit. It took the jury just fifteen minutes to come to verdict in my favor.

Can I counter-sue for my time, lost wages and the fact that my malpractice insurance premiums jumped out of sight because the insurance company had to defend me in this lawsuit (to the tune of $46,000)? No! The system does not allow for this. My losses are not recognized as an injury. The system does not view the defending physician as the real victim in such cases. This is inherently unfair.

I do not blame the opposing attorney, nor do I blame the patient for filing this lawsuit. I do not even blame the judge for allowing this case to go forward. The simple truth is that this case would never have gone forward had it not been for the board certified plastic surgeon who agreed to testify against me for money. He was paid handsomely for his testimony. He distorted the medical facts of the case to create a story filled with mischaracterizations and half-truths. Fortunately, good documentation and my strong rebuttal testimony allowed the jury to see through this charade and the members found verdict in my favor.

What is the solution to the expert witness problem? One solution is for each specialty to create a panel of physicians who issue a "certificate of merit" similar to a certificate of board certification to those physicians who qualify to become an expert witness in their respective field. Those physicians who desire to obtain a "certificate of merit" as an expert witness must pass qualifying written and perhaps even oral examinations to ensure their credibility and integrity. Recertification could be done every five to 10 years. Physicians who receive a "certificate of merit" can either donate their time or receive predetermined reasonable monetary compensation for their time and expenses.

As it stands now, expert witnesses receive exorbitant fees for their testimony and this can bias their opinions of medical facts so as to suit the fancy of the attorney who is paying them. By establishing a "certificate of merit" for expert witnesses, bias and discrimination can be diminished and the number of frivolous lawsuits could drop. Furthermore, certified physician experts would maintain respect among their peers.

Monetary compensation for expert witness testimony dilutes the integrity and credibility of all physicians. It is bad for society as a whole and even worse for medicine. Physicians such as the one who testified against me are dangerous. By way of their clouded testimony, the esteem and respect that people have for physicians is damaged. As physicians, we must place ourselves above this type of denigration. It seems morally and ethically reprehensible for physicians to make part or all of their living by accepting money for expert witness testimony.


At 11:24 AM, Blogger Aively said...

It's terrible that a doctor would lie and distort the facts to get money. There's also another problem with having medical testimonies in court, from a patient's viewpoint; having to pay a medical professional so much in order to get their testimony. My son was injured at birth from medical negligence. The doctors ignored two ultrasounds stating that my son was in the top ten percent. One at 34 weeks and another at 38 weeks and neglected to take precautions for expecting a big baby. Then come delivery time, a midwife and nurse were the only ones present. When my son's shoulders became stuck, the midwife did not know what she was doing and began to jerk on my child's head so hard my mother and husband thought she was going to pull it off. There was even more that went wrong, but I'm being a little vague on the details. There were maneuvers she should have performed. My son had a brachial plexus injury. He could not move his arm for three months. We've attended physical therapy for 13 months now. There's been a lot of emotional stress over this. Not to mention the pain my child had to go through when being welcomed into this world. I'm still thinking about this on a daily basis and how this will affect my child later on in life and what other damage may have been caused from his oxygen supply being cut off. There's nothing we can do about it though because my son is getting better.I've been told this by several attorneys. That it would cost more to hire a medical professional and pay attorney fees than the compensation my son would receive. I'm thankful my son is healing and wouldn't trade any amount of money for that. I see your side of the story, and maybe we're kind of on the same page. I just hope you can see my side too. It's just unfair that my family has had to suffer and our justice system has taken measures to try and protect the millionaire doctors, even though it still has it's flaws, but not the little boy with the broken wing.

At 11:27 AM, Blogger Aively said...

This comment has been removed by the author.


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