What Does a Jury Expect from an Expert Witness?

Expert witness testimony allows medical experts to use their experience outside of their practice. But what skills are needed for a seamless shift from clinic to courtroom?

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When a civil lawsuit or claim involves physical injury, plaintiff or defense attorneys enlist an expert to review the medical details of a case. In fact, the expert witness role benefits both attorneys and medical specialists. Attorneys add credibility to their cases by leveraging hard facts from a seasoned doctor or nurse, and the expert gets a chance to use their experience for income beyond the clinic. Amy Hanegan from Better Witnesses told Medplace about juries' unique expectations for these experts.

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Credibility

Juries expect that the expert has spent years in their respective field. While accolades and awards may help cement the expert's integrity in the jury's eyes, Jerrod Bailey points out that hands-on experience is vital when recruiting a medical expert.

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The best witnesses are professional doctors. They're not professional witnesses. Many of you have been in a situation where both sides are cross-examinating, and you have a professional medical witness. But if you have a really great doctor that has been prepared well. These are practicing clinicians, they have the most up-to-date insights.

Most importantly, juries expect experts to give them the information they need to make a decision, so this experience should be apparent in the testimony.

Accessibility 

All that experience does not mean much unless the expert can convey it to the jury. For this reason, they must be excellent teachers, able to make the information repeatable and engaging. Repeatable statements ensure that jurors use the knowledge from the expert during deliberation. According to Hanegan, organizing data by themes also makes it more palatable to a non-medical audience.

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Themes that the jurors can repeat are important so they can quote those experts. Here are two examples: 'There was no delay in Mr. Jones's cancer diagnosis. Should it be a failure to diagnose?' Or something a little more complicated. 'The placental pathology proves that the baby was damaged three months before birth.'

Finally, experts can use powerful, informative visuals to accompany their information and best engage the jury. Jurors want to be engaged by the information, so experts must design these presentations with them in mind. Hanegan notes that many experts use designs intended to be shared with their medically literate colleagues. Instead, these experts should opt for simplified graphics without unnecessary terminology to succeed in testimony.

 

Empathetic Expert Witnesses

Despite their extensive qualifications, experts should not overlook the human elements of a case. Just as doctors seek to connect with and thoughtfully engage with their patients in the doctors' offices, they should bring empathy into the courtroom. Hanegan said that juries expect thoughtful expert witnesses and will not respond well to a cold and calculated testimony.

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One thing jurors really liked to hear is the question, "Why did you become a placental pathologist? Why did you become a cardiac surgeon? We had a situation, a very difficult case and the expert, an OV, was so compassionate, and talked about how even in medical school when he would see started to see babies who were damaged, how that affected him. I can tell you that personal experience is critical with an expert; we can't forget that these doctors must relate to those who are listening to them. 

With these elements, prospective medical expert witnesses can engage dynamically with juries to best use their experience and build their reputation. For more information about expert witness testimony, check out Medplace's webinar, How to Prepare a Medical Expert for Claims Review and Expert Witness Testimony.

 

Adrienne Fugett

Adrienne Fugett

Vice President of Clinical Operations

Adrienne leads the Medplace clinical operations team and oversees the recruitment, onboarding, and training of the network. She holds over 30 years of experience in Medical ICU, Quality & Risk and Medical Malpractice Defense work.

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