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Medicolegal Aspects of Pathology Practice Gregory G. Davis, M.D. Jefferson County Coroner/Medical Examiner Office Department of Pathology, University of.

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Presentation on theme: "Medicolegal Aspects of Pathology Practice Gregory G. Davis, M.D. Jefferson County Coroner/Medical Examiner Office Department of Pathology, University of."— Presentation transcript:

1 Medicolegal Aspects of Pathology Practice Gregory G. Davis, M.D. Jefferson County Coroner/Medical Examiner Office Department of Pathology, University of Alabama at Birmingham

2 Legally Sound Medical Practice Legal obligation to possess learning and skill similar to other physicians in specialty Accepting patient carries duty of reasonable care and diligence in applying skills to task Must use best judgment, continue to learn, and adhere to practice approved by others No guarantee of good outcome, and not liable for mere error in judgment carefully made

3 Sound Medical Practice Save specimen for toxicological analysis. Document work. Be honest when errors occur. Work with attorneys when necessary, but be guarded. Keep your mouth shut.

4 Malpractice suits Why do patients sue? –Money –Misdiagnosis –Mistreatment What prevents patients from suing? –A good relationship

5 Expert Witness Testimony Expert witness Has training and experience beyond ordinary human experience. May give his opinion in court. Any physician can be qualified as an expert witness by virtue of his medical degree and practice.

6 Laboratory Workers as Witnesses Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts

7 Natural History of a Legal Suit 1.Notification of case (summons). 2.Background work of legal preparation. –Witness interviews. –Deposition. 3.Trial

8 Natural History of a Legal Suit Deposition – sworn statement (or videotape recording) of your testimony that may be read (or played) in court as a substitute for your personal appearance at the trial.

9 Natural History of a Legal Suit Deposition No other witnesses, no judge, no jury present. Can be taken at any place agreeable to you and attorneys. May benefit you as a physician witness.

10 Natural History of a Legal Suit Deposition Dress may be casual if deposition is written. Despite casual nature, deposition is not an informal proceeding. Statements you make are as binding as if made during the trial in a courtroom.

11 Natural History of a Legal Suit Deposition Lets attorneys find out what you will say. Any objection raised will be noted in record, and you then answer the question. Written deposition read aloud to jury. Videotaped deposition shown to jury.

12 Natural History of a Legal Suit Review your deposition before you testify in trial. You should say same thing in trial that you did in deposition. If you must change a statement you can –Expect to explain why you changed your mind. –Do not make a habit of changing your mind.

13 Natural History of a Legal Suit Deposition May satisfy attorneys, and thus spare you testifying in trial. Do not count on not testifying in trial.

14 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying Testifying is a performance. The truth is the truth, but how you tell it makes all the difference.

15 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying Performance begins as you enter room. –Look professional, neat, clean, conservative. –Jury should remember what you said, not what clothes you wore.

16 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying Performance continues –as you walk to witness stand. –as you take the oath.

17 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying A physician witness is in a strong position –No one in room knows as much medicine as physician. –Attorneys as afraid of you as you are of them. –Jury wants to like physician witness.

18 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying After swearing in you are asked your name. Fact witness then begins direct examination. Expert witnesses qualify themselves next –Tell your training and experience that make you an expert in your area. –Attorney for other side may challenge your qualifications.

19 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying Use experience in teaching small groups to help you teach this group of twelve laymen. –Review the case before the trial. –Determine with attorney points for jury to learn and remember. –Think of way to make important, complicated points clear to laymen (example, analogy, model).

20 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying Assemble your ideas in effective order. Have in mind the points you want to make. String these points together for the jury as you are questioned.

21 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying Rapport you establish with jury is critical to your success as a witness. –Address short answers to attorney who asked. –Address long answers to jury. Use English rather than medical jargon. Address jury as you address a favorite patient to whom you must explain a particular medical matter.

22 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying Rapport you establish with jury is critical to your success as a witness. –Establishing good rapport protects you from a vicious attack by an attorney. –Never be rude, suspicious, curt, or condescending.

23 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying Keep your answers as brief as possible. –Less is more. –Limits cross-examination.

24 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying Direct examination should go smoothly. –Let attorney finish his question before you answer. –If question should require a moment’s consideration to answer properly, take that moment.

25 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying Good idea to pause a half second before replying to any question from either side. If objection raised remain silent until judge rules.

26 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying If you do not understand the question posed by an attorney, then ask him to repeat it. If an objection and the discussion following it have caused you to forget the original question, then ask the attorney to repeat it.

27 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying Cross-examination –Begins when direct examiner says, “No further questions.” –If your testimony is vital to one side, the cross- examination will be designed to take the teeth out of the argument you just made.

28 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying Maintain equanimity Cross-examining attorney will not let you leave the witness stand without conceding at least one point in his favor. Consider what that point is when it comes, then fight or capitulate as is appropriate.

29 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying If your testimony cannot be discredited on cross-examination, the only thing left to the attorney is to try and discredit you. Several ploys available to attorney.

30 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying Cross-examination ploy Ploy: Attorney rude to point of provoking you to anger. Solution: Never lose your cool on the witness stand.

31 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying Cross-examination ploy Ploy: Attorney compliments you on your medical knowledge, then begins to move questions into an area outside your area of expertise. Solution: Say you cannot answer a question that concerns an area beyond your area of expertise.

32 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying Cross-examination ploy Ploy: Attorney demands question be answered “Yes” or “No.” Solution: Reply that the question concerns a complicated matter, and to answer “Yes” or “No” without explanation would mislead the jury.

33 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying Cross-examination ploy Ploy: Attorney asks whether you consider a certain textbook authoritative. Solution: Say “No.”

34 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying Cross-examination ploy Ploy: Attorney asks you how much you have been paid for your testimony. Solution: Say, “My testimony is not for hire. I have been paid for my time, my professional knowledge, my services in studying the medical facts in the case, and for my medical opinions based on those facts.”

35 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying Cross-examination ploy Ploy: Attorney asks whether you have discussed this case with anyone. Solution: Say “Yes” if you have. It is proper to discuss case with attorney who hired you, as the cross examining attorney knows perfectly well.

36 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying Cross-examination ploy Ploy: Attorney demands you answer question without looking at your notes. Solution: Say that you prefer to look at your notes to assure that you give the correct answer.

37 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying Cross-examination ploy Ploy: Attorney asks you a two part question. Solution: Answer each question in turn (first things first).

38 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying Cross-examination ploy Ploy: Attorney says your opinion differs from that of Dr. X, and asks whether you are implying that Dr. X does not know what he is doing. Solution: Say that this is a complicated medical matter open to interpretation. Dr. X has his opinion and you have stated your opinion. In this case the two of you happen to disagree.

39 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying Always appropriate to answer “I don’t know.”

40 Natural History of a Legal Suit Testifying It is not your responsibility as an expert witness to win or lose a case. Your responsibility is to transmit to the jury your understanding of the case, to be a teacher. Equanimity

41 Unethical Expert Witness Testimony Any physician can be qualified as an expert witness. Testifying as an expert physician not considered the practice of medicine by courts, so no medical license necessary.

42 Unethical Expert Witness Testimony Occurs when the expert witness lies. when he willfully fails to take into account all the circumstances involved in the case. when his medical conclusions are outside the realm of accepted scientific method and practice.

43 Unethical Expert Witness Testimony Currently handled by adversarial trial approach

44 Unethical Expert Witness Testimony AMA Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs Physicians should help administer justice. Medical witness must maintain equanimity. Should prepare and testify honestly Should inform attorney of all favorable and unfavorable information about case. Wrong to accept payment on contingency

45 Information Age HIPAA –Written so it will not impede criminal investigations –Patient who brings a malpractice suit against a physician still waives his right to privacy concerning medical record Digital image storage, retention, manipulation

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