April 13, 2016
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Speaker relates what to expect as an expert witness

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Anyone who engages in expert testimony must know what is meant by standard of care, according to Christie L. Morse, MD, the immediate past chair of the AAO Ethics Committee and executive vice president of AAPOS.

Morse gave colleagues at the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus meeting practical tips for those who would consider becoming an expert witness.

Christie L. Morse

“[A standard of care] is what a reasonable peer physician would recommend under similar circumstances,” she said, adding that an objective basis needs to be established that is evidence based as well as a community standard.

The expert witness is selected for expertise in a particular discipline and is allowed to offer opinion. It is important for there to be a medical expert to assist the court, she said, so he or she may define the standard of care and interpret and evaluate meaning and relevance of data.

“With providing expert witness testimony, there are really significant responsibilities,” she said.

According to Morse, there are common pitfalls that expert witnesses should avoid: misrepresenting training or experience; being unfamiliar with the intricacies of the specialty of concern; viewing the case with tunnel vision, which causes one to miss the larger clinical picture; confusing personal opinion or preference with the legal standard of care; allowing oneself to be encouraged by the attorney; resisting answering truthfully or objectively; allowing personal relationships or competitive issues to bias testimony; underestimating the comprehension level of the judge, jury or other side; and accepting compensation that is contingent on the outcome of a trial.

“At the end of the day, the trial judge is the gatekeeper,” Morse said. “It’s really the job of the judge to figure out if an expert is a credible expert.” – by Patricia Nale, ELS

Reference: Morse CL. Order in the court: The art and ethics of the witness stand and other legal issues in pediatric ophthalmology. Presented at: American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus 42nd annual meeting; April 6-10, 2016; Vancouver, British Columbia.

Disclosure: Morse reports no relevant financial disclosures.