American Academy of Neurology elaborates expert witness guidelines

11/22/05

ST. PAUL, Minn. The American Academy of Neurology has updated its guidelines regarding physician expert witness testimony in legal proceedings. The guidelines appear in a special article online as an "expedited e-pub" of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN).

Medical expert testimony is defined by three components: 1) the medical evaluation, including a review of medical records and other pertinent data, or an interview and examination of the patient, or both; 2) an expert opinion based on the medical evaluation; and 3) communication of the opinion in the form of court testimony, deposition, affidavit, or answers to interrogatories.

In addition to having a valid and unrestricted license to practice medicine, physician expert witnesses should be fully trained in the specialty or subject matter related to the case. For instance, a neurologist who specializes in epilepsy would be an appropriate expert witness for a case regarding epilepsy. If a physician expert is not active in clinical practice when offering an expert opinion, the expert should be able to demonstrate competence to provide such an opinion, according to the qualifications outlined in the article.

Physician expert witnesses should conduct their testimony in an accurate, impartial, and relevant manner. The expert should acknowledge whether an opinion is based on personal clinical experience, published information, practice guidelines, or prevailing expert opinion, according to the article.

"There has been increasing focus on the conduct of physician expert witnesses over the last several years," said Michael A. Williams, MD, co-author of the article and the Chair of the AAN Ethics, Law and Humanities Committee. "The AAN's Qualifications and Guidelines for the Physician Expert Witness had not been changed since 1989, and we determined it was important to update them. Our goal is to promote expert witness testimony that is competent, truthful, and founded in scientific evidence."

The Expert Witness Guidelines supplement the AAN Code of Professional Conduct, and members of the AAN are expected to follow the standards set forth in both documents.

Murray G. Sagsveen, JD, another co-author and the general counsel of the AAN, explained that the AAN doesn't provide a referral service for expert witnesses for litigation purposes. "It is the responsibility of the attorneys representing the plaintiff and defendant to select expert witnesses who will follow the guidelines when providing expert witness testimony," said Sagsveen.

Following the expedited e-pub on www.neurology.org, the Qualifications and Guidelines for the Physician Expert Witness will be published in the January 10, 2006, print issue of Neurology.

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