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What Role do Medical Experts Play in a Personal Injury Case?

When you hire a personal injury attorney, they will very likely have your case evaluated by an expert medical witness. This is such an important part of the personal injury lawsuit process, and this article covers all the reasons why that is the case. 

A medical expert’s job is to explain to the jury or judge how the injury has impacted you, as the plaintiff. They will also describe the long-term effects of your injuries and what kinds of therapies, treatments, and rehabilitation you will continue to need.

What do medical experts do?

A medical expert writing on a medical chart

Provide Medical Assessments

A medical expert witness will thoroughly review your medical records, including details about your injuries, treatments you received, and any pre-existing conditions you have. By analyzing these records, they gain a comprehensive understanding of your medical history and the specific injuries caused by the incident. 

Sometimes, the expert medical witness will need to conduct a medical exam, rather than just going over your records. This assessment helps them to get a more accurate understanding of your injuries. 

By conducting this comprehensive medical assessment, the expert can provide a thorough and detailed report to the court about your injuries, the treatment you have received so far, your ongoing symptoms,and the treatment you will need to continue to receive in the future. 

Example of a medical assessment

In a personal injury case involving a car accident, an orthopedic specialist was able to examine the plaintiff’s medical records and diagnostic imaging reports. Then, she performed a physical examination to confirm what she saw in the records and make additional notes. 

She was able to identify that the plaintiff suffered a spinal injury that causes chronic pain and limited mobility. Then, in court, she was able to answer questions about the short- and long-term impacts of the plaintiff’s injuries, and the personal injury attorney demonstrated that there was a clear link between the accident and the injuries–and that the defendant caused the accident through reckless behavior. 

The plaintiff received a substantial court award, in part because of the medical assessment provided by the expert witness.

When someone has suffered a spinal injury in Indianapolis, for example, the expertise of a medical expert becomes indispensable in accurately assessing the extent of the injury and its long-term implications. Similarly, in cases involving injuries to the brain claims in South Bend, a medical expert’s insight is crucial. Their detailed analysis and testimony can significantly influence the outcome of such cases, ensuring that the complexities of brain injuries are comprehensively understood. This level of understanding is vital for the victim’s current and future needs to be fully addressed in any legal claim or compensation settlement.

Two medical experts looking at a patient’s x-ray result determining the diagnosis

Determine Causation

Medical experts play an important role in determining the causal relationship between the incident and your injuries. 

By reviewing all available evidence, including medical records, accident reports, witness statements, and other relevant information, they can examine the timeline of events and determine this cause-and-effect relationship that is essential to your case. 

Example of causation determination

There was a slip-and-fall case in which a plaintiff who lived in a retirement community slipped and fell on an unmarked, unattended wet area in the hallway. The plaintiff suffered a hip fracture and had to be transferred to a rehabilitation facility. Following the fall, the plaintiff struggled to regain full mobility. 

The medical expert witness was able to confirm that the plaintiff’s injuries were a direct result of the hazardous condition in the hallway. Even though the plaintiff already used a walker, their condition deteriorated because of the fall. 

Then, he educated the judge and jury about the connections between the retirement community’s negligence, the wet floor, and the resulting injuries. Most importantly, he demonstrated that the plaintiff’s condition was a direct result of the fall, not just from aging.

The medical expert strengthened the plaintiff’s case by establishing a clear link between the facility’s negligence and the harm suffered. 

FAQs About Medical Experts

As personal injury attorneys, we get a lot of questions from our clients about medical experts. This is often someone who is not your usual doctor or healthcare provider, and they are going to have full access to your current medical situation. 

It makes sense that you would want to know more about what role these experts play in the courtroom, as well as in cases that are settled before getting that far. 

What is a medical expert in a personal injury case?

A medical expert is a qualified professional, typically a healthcare professional, who has specialized knowledge and experience in a specific medical field. Their area of expertise is relevant to the injuries caused by the incident. 

Here are some examples: 

  • An orthopedic specialist or neurologist may testify about injuries to the brain or spinal cord
  • A general practitioner may testify about short- and long-term injuries
  • An ER physician may testify about the treatment they provided when the plaintiff was brought to the hospital
  • A mental health provider may testify about the psychological impact of the incident

Why is medical expert testimony important in a personal injury case? 

Testimony from medical experts is crucial because the judge and/or jury must hear objective, specialized insights into the nature, cause, extent, and impact of the plaintiff’s injuries. This testimony helps the court to understand complex medical issues. 

Medical testimony assists the court in determining liability and the appropriate compensation for the plaintiff. 

What is the difference between an expert witness and an eyewitness?

Eyewitnesses are individuals who were present during the events of a personal injury and can testify to what they saw, heard, and experienced on the scene. 

A passerby who stopped to provide assistance to someone who was injured is an eyewitness, and he can only answer questions about what happened while he was treating the patient. 

The doctor who treated the patient at the hospital may be an eyewitness and an expert witness, because she can both tell the jury what she observed and explain how the injuries will affect the plaintiff’s life. 

A doctor who has been hired to review all of the documentation from the case and provide a clear explanation of how the individual was injured? That is an expert witness.

A doctor examining a patient’s knee joint after an injury

How are medical experts selected for a personal injury case? 

Typically, these experts are chosen based on a few factors: 

  • Their specific area of medical expertise
  • Their experience in the specific medical field related to the plaintiff’s injuries
  • Their experience testifying before the court

As personal injury attorneys, we consult with medical associations and our own professional networks to find credentialed, experienced medical experts. We only want to hire the best experts who can effectively examine the evidence and explain it to the court. 

Are medical experts paid for their testimony?

Medical experts are paid for the time they dedicate to the case. They are not paid to give a specific testimony or to answer questions in any predetermined way. 

Who pays for the witness testimony?

Ultimately, it is the injured person who pays for the witnesses’ time. However, this almost always comes out of the settlement or court award, rather than out of your pocket. In most situations, your lawyer will pay the fees up front, and then when you get a settlement, the witness fees will be deducted (along with the attorney’s fees). 

What qualifications do you look for in a medical expert?

Medical expert witnesses should have the appropriate medical degrees, board certifications, and extensive experience in their field. 

When does a personal injury attorney find expert medical witnesses?

It is always better to find an expert medical witness early in the process of preparing for the case, during discovery. Expert witnesses can help your attorney determine what additional material is needed to win the case. 

If you wait until it is time to go to trial, you may struggle to find a good witness, or your witness may not support the events as you have understood them. In that case, you will have wasted months or even years on a case that can’t be defended well in court! Neither you nor your lawyer want to face that reality, so it is important to consult expert witnesses as soon as possible. 

Is my primary care physician a good expert witness?

Absolutely. Primary care physicians (PCPs) and other medical professionals who know you and have treated you for your injuries are granted a lot of credibility by juries and judges! 

You can speak with your attorney and your PCP about how they can support you in your personal injury case.

What kind of information can a medical expert provide in their testimony?

These are some of the things that a medical expert witness can provide to the court:

  • Information about the nature and extent of the plaintiff’s injuries
  • The prognosis for recovery
  • The impact of the injuries on the plaintiff’s daily life and future
  • Information about the need for ongoing medical treatments
  • Estimations of potential future medical costs 

Is there anything an expert medical witness can’t say or do?

Medical witnesses are neutral third parties. Their role is to answer questions about the plaintiff’s injuries–we hope it is clear that they are not permitted to make anything up, exaggerate their findings, or answer questions with bias toward or against the plaintiff or defendant. 

The reason expert witnesses are so important to your case is because they are able to prove what is factually true: that your pain and suffering is the result of the injuries you sustained because of someone else’s actions. 

Can the defendant challenge the credibility of the testimony?

Yes, the attorney for the defendant has the right to challenge the credibility of the expert’s testimony through cross-examination, counter-arguments, and even calling their own expert witnesses. 

Suffering from a Personal Injury? Yosha Law Firm Can Help

At Yosha Law, we have been helping Indiana’s personal injury victims get compensation for decades. We know that healing from a personal injury can leave you feeling discouraged, isolated, and in pain. You shouldn’t have to go through this alone. 

We’re here to help. As personal injury attorneys, we can find the ideal medical witnesses that will explain your injuries to a jury or judge in a clear and effective way. 

If you have been injured, contact us for a free phone consultation at (317)334-9200. 

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