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On Being An Expert Witness As A Health Professional

On Being an Expert Witness as a Health Professional

A recent matter in which I appeared as an expert reinforced the importance of understanding where one’s boundaries lie as an expert.

This particular case – heard in late 2018 – revolved around a devastating amputation suffered by the plaintiff when the train on which she had been travelling, ran over her after she had been pushed between the platform and the train.  The focus of my assessment and testimony as an Occupational Therapist was that of determining the occupational impact of the injury, along with the impact it had on her activities of daily living.

The material point of difference between my opponent and me related to the specifics pertaining to the kind of prosthetics required in restoring function.  We did not agree that the opinion and recommendations in this regard was the domain of another expert, and not ours.  Therein lay much of the focus of the examination–in-chief and cross-examination.

In the end, the court – appropriately in my view – drew very clear boundaries around the respective areas of expertise involved in the matter.  Boundaries that, if drawn sooner, may have led to the finalisation of the matter long before going to trial; saved litigation costs and most of all, enabled the plaintiff to receive the necessary compensation required in gaining access to the most suitable form of prosthetics and rehabilitation sooner than later.

One of the responsibilities of an expert witness – irrespective of the type of matter in hand – is to ensure that the opinion given is one that is aligned with their specific specialist area and does not stray therefrom.  Whilst some experts may have additional qualifications and experience that legitimately enable them to expand the parameters of their opinion, this is rather the exception than the norm.

The primary focus of the experiential training received during the UCT certified course:

The Provision of Expert Opinion & Evidence as a Health Professional

is that of ensuring that health professionals, who become or are involved in the provision of expert opinions, do so in a manner that is keeping with what is expected and required of an expert witness.

Whilst some may find themselves in the witness box by choice – i.e. they actively seek the work, others find themselves there by extension of having been the individual who provided an opinion in a disability claims matter or by having signed off a decision in this regard.  Irrespective of the route taken, the rules are the same and are far better understood, known and tested prior to an appearance in Court, than discovered in the process.

The content and training of this course is complementary to that offered by SAMLA and is by no means the same. 

If anything, those who have attended the first SAMLA course would benefit from the real-life, real-case, experiential training provided by the top advocacy skills trainer in the country, Adv. Jannie van der Merwe SC and his training partner, Adv. Paul White. 

Jannie is known for having arranged the first medical expert witness advocacy training workshop for advocates and doctors in South Africa in 2007 and is sought after all over the world in the provision of advocacy and expert skills training.

Due to the one-on-one experiential method of training on this course it takes a maximum of 20 participants.  For more information contact Burns-Hoffman Consulting on elise@b-h.co.za or email ce.administration@uct.ac.za

Registration for the course is done through UCT.

ELISE

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