Saturday, May 3, 2008

Who Should Conduct a Medical Examination?

Whether you call it an "independent medical examination," "a defense medical examination" or "compulsory medical examination," your first decision is whether to subject the plaintiff to one. Is his physical or mental condition at issue? Do you want that condition evaluated by an expert of your choice? If so, you need to decide who should conduct it. When choosing an expert to evaluate the plaintiff, consider the following:

Do you need the plaintiff examined by more than one specialist? Perhaps the plaintiff has physical and cognitive injuries? If so, you may need to have him examined by both a neurologist or orthopedic surgeon and a neuropsychologist. Perhaps a third and even a fourth examination may be in order (an ophthalmologist for an injury to the eye, a vocational rehabilitation counselor to evaluate earning capacity, etc). If you plan on subjecting the plaintiff to multiple exams, it is best to get plaintiff’s O.K. first. If he refuses, seek court intervention. You want to resolve the number of medical examinations before setting the first one, because you don’t want to start setting medical examinations and then have to abandon one or more, perhaps the most important ones, because the court has determined you already have subjected the plaintiff to too many exams.

What kind of expert do you need? Once you’ve isolated the injuries or conditions that need evaluation, you need the find the right expert to evaluate them. Don’t settle for an expert in the general field related to plaintiff’s condition. Find an expert in the sub-specialty related to that condition. For example, if you want to evaluate whether a prescription drug caused a plaintiff’s stroke, don’t settle on a board-certified neurologist. Search out a board-certified vascular neurologist. If you want to examine whether a fall caused a plaintiff’s knee injury, don’t settle on a general orthopedic surgeon. Find one who specializes in knees. Better yet, find a sports medicine physician who specializes in knees. Always search out the expert who is best suited to evaluate the plaintiff’s condition.

Search out the best. When looking for an expert, find the best. Don’t settle for a second rate expert simply because you believe he will give you the opinion you’re hoping for. If the expert is going to be convincing, not only to the jury for purposes of trial, but to opposing counsel for purposes of settlement discussions, search out the best expert available.

Start with looking at the websites of Florida’s medical schools. Look for the chairs of the departments, the ones who went to the ivy league schools, who were chief residents, who have a long list of publications and are frequent lecturers. You are looking for the best of the best. If you found someone who has been named the Best of America’s Doctors year after year and has a 30-plus page resume, you’ve likely found your expert.

Of course, chair or co-chairs of departments tend to be busy. Sometimes you have to schedule medical examinations with them months in advance. Sometimes, they simply don’t do medical examinations for litigation. If so, keep going down the list of tenured professors until you find someone that fits your needs and has an impressive resume.

Confirm the expert is the best. He looks good on paper, but how do you know the expert lives up to the resume? Ask for references - the names of attorneys who have previously retained him. Find out the type of expert he really is. Just as important, find out the type of witness he is - how does he perform at deposition? How about at trial? It does not matter if you have a brilliant expert if he can’t put two words together when staring at a jury.

When retaining an expert to conduct a medical examination, take the time to find the right expert to evaluate plaintiff’s condition. The right one with respect to his curriculum vitae and also to the type of witness he will make.

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