When a medical provider is called to give testimony as an expert witness or a fact-based witness, chances are you don’t have the option of saying no. If you’re presented with a legal request, you should be as prepared as possible, and part of that preparation will involve knowing what to wear, say and do to ensure you don’t land in hot water.
Check the following tips before serving as a medical expert witness so you can stay on the right side of the law.
Get to Know Each Type of Testimony
When you’re called to provide your expertise as a fact-based or medical expert witness, it won’t always be as part of a courtroom trial. There are a few types of testimony you may be asked to provide.
- Depositions are where you are most commonly going to have to explain your opinions. A deposition typically involves sitting in a room where the opposing counsel asks you for opinions based on your expert experience. These questions are similar to what you’d be asked in a trial, and you must swear to tell the truth at a deposition, much like you would in a trial. Essentially, the deposition occurs as part of the “discovery phase” of the case, telling the attorneys exactly what information you have so they can understand more about the entire case at hand.
- Trials are more formal events, often involving a courtroom, a judge, and sometimes a jury. During a trial, you may be asked to answer similar questions as you were in the deposition, or you could be asked follow-up questions based on what you said during the deposition.
Always Be Honest
The most important rule for testifying, whether it’s at a deposition or a trial, is to always be honest. And if an attorney asks you to lie, it’s time to work with a different attorney, because honesty should be the first rule of your team.
Don’t feel like you need to lie or embellish any facts to try to advance any points, because the opposing side will figure it out and attack it. And if you are caught lying under oath, it could mean fines, jail time, or losing your medical license.
Be Humble and Polite
Even though you may think of a deposition or trial as having a right side and a wrong side, you shouldn’t consider it a battle with opposing counsel that you need to win. Stay humble, answer questions factually and politely, and don’t get worked up or offended by the questions.
If the opposing counsel is hoping you’ll get angry and say something out of line, you don’t want to give them that opportunity, and the best way to stay calm is to check your ego at the door. If you act up or get offended by any of the questions, it could make the jury think you don’t know what you’re talking about, so stay calm, answer honestly, be polite, and if you don’t know the answer to a question, simply say so.
Don’t Talk Over Each Other or Be Sarcastic
If an attorney is asking you a question, it’s important to let them finish rather than jumping in and answering. Not only does that help you truly listen to what the other person is saying, but it will make it easier for the judge, the jury and the court reporter to hear your answers.
In addition, avoid sarcastic remarks and inappropriate gestures in response to questions. That makes you look like less of an expert, and can cause you to come off disrespectful and unprofessional.
Manage Your Facial Expressions
During a trial or videotaped deposition, you must keep your facial expressions in check so they don’t make you look like you’re mocking the question or that you’re unprepared. Even if you’re saying the right things, an awkward facial expression can make it look like you’re not the expert you’re purported to be.
Wear Business Attire
You should dress for testimony wearing business-appropriate clothing. That might mean a suit, a dress, or another similar outfit, but you should dress professionally to demonstrate that you fit within the expertise you’ve been positioned as having.
Show Respect to Judges
Always demonstrate respect to the judge. Arrive early for trials or depositions, and refer to judges as “Your Honor” at all times.
Answer the Question, But Say No More
You should answer the questions that attorneys and judges ask you honestly and to the best of your ability. If you don’t know the answer, say so. But don’t say more than you’re being asked. In some cases, the opposing attorney will not reply after you answer a question, because they want you to say more beyond what you’ve answered. However, as long as you answer the question, you are under no pressure to keep talking. Allow the silence, even if it’s awkward, rather than sharing more than you need to.
For more on serving as a medical fact-based or expert witness, check out the online training event, Prevent Costly Errors as a Medical Expert or Fact-Based Witness. During this 60-minute session, attorney Bryan Meek, Esq., will walk you through every step of the witness process, from creating your resume to answering questions. Sign up today!
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