Finding and vetting an expert medical witness can be time consuming and frustrating for your legal staff. While legal professionals may have networked extensively in the legal world, the medical world is a different animal. Aside from needing to navigate medical jargon and look up the meanings of different acronyms for credentials, it can also be difficult to distinguish between the relative notability of different items on an expert’s (or “expert’s”) CV. A Registered Nurse working as a Legal Nurse Consultant (LNC) already speaks the language of medical jargon and may be able to tell you off the top of their head what the difference in prestige is between, for example, being the president of ACEP and the president of GCEP (that’s the American College of Emergency Physicians and the Georgia College of Emergency Physicians). The LNC would also be able to tell you whether the individual with works published by the National Network for Immunization Information will look more- or less-credible than the individual with works published by the National Vaccine Information Center (it’s the former!) without having to waste time on extra research.
On top of that, once the LNC (or the legal team) finds an individual they’d like to speak to, there are countless difficulties that might be encountered in trying to reach that individual. Nurses know how to get past “gatekeepers” in medical world and get through to the doctor. After all, it’s their job. Nurses also have thick skins when it comes to dealing with ornery healthcare providers who don’t want to be bothered and can help break down barriers between you, as the attorney, and the best qualified physician expert to support your case.
Once a potential expert has been located the legal nurse consultant can serve as an ambassador between the attorney and the expert, providing the medical details and potential legal implications (as indicated by the attorney) to the expert witness. Due to their professional medical background nurses can often detect the reasons behind the physician expert’s query and can help facilitate the exchange of important information.
On the other hand, if the attorney prefers, many nurse consultants are more than happy to locate a witness and pass the baton off the to the legal team- it’s really a matter of attorney preference. In either case, however, a legal nurse consultant can streamline the process of finding a medical expert witness while minimizing the number of minute details the attorney has to manage, and that’s a win-win situation!
I'm often asked what need a malpractice defense attorney would have of a Legal Nurse Consultant (LNC). The line of thought is that the defendant himself or herself is a medical professional, so shouldn't they be able to explain everything to the attorney? In a certain sense this is true. One thing that the defendant medical practitioner may not be able to do, however, is give an unbiased, unimpassioned look at what the plaintiff is alleging and show how the plaintiff counsel can use the same medical records the defendant is looking at to tell a completely different story about what happened- one that seems to point to the defendant breaching his or her duty to the plaintiff. There is great value in having an outside medical professional weigh in on what the plaintiff side can use from the medical record in order to prove that a breech occurred.
An LNC can also assist in a medical malpractice case by creating presentation to help the legal staff visualize the medical procedures or physiologic mechanisms involved in the case. These presentations can serve to simplify the details of what is being alleged, and help legal staff visualize the difference between what the expected outcome was and what actually happened.
Legal Nurses can also navigate the medical record more quickly than non-medical legal staff. A LNC can identify any pre-existing conditions the plaintiff had or any documentation that may mitigate the defendant doctor or nurse’s liability. An LNC can also identify what the standard of care is, and the ways in which it was met by the practitioner (if any).
An LNC working for the defense can assist with discovery by identifying information that is missing or altered in the medical record so that the proper requests can be made. A Legal Nurse Consultant can also assist the attorney with developing more detailed interrogatories and help review and analyze the information provided in response to the interrogatories. The LNC can help clarify medical information that is both helpful and hurtful to the case. Even when the LNC is giving opinions that look unfavorable for the defendant, he or she can still help the defense attorney identify what the problem areas are for the case.
Legal Nurse Consultants also read through long and meticulous depositions to create focused deposition digests, complete with summaries and references. These can be very valuable as a quick reference to the most important medical information to the case.
The goal of the Legal Nurse Consultant with any case is to serve as a knowledge bridge for the attorney. We want to make the attorney’s cases simpler and more cost effective, by using our clinical expertise to complement the legal team’s legal expertise. If there is any way that we can help you, please feel free to contact us.
,In a medical malpractice case, it must be shown that a medical professional involved in the plaintiff’s care breached the standard of care, and that this resulted in damages to the plaintiff. A legal nurse consultant can assist in many ways, from helping to define the standard of care, to showing how this standard was or was not met, to determining what future sequelae the plaintiff may experience as a result of their injury. This basic information can amount to an educated and professional opinion that can help you decide whether a case has merit. Nurses can more quickly navigate medical records and more easily understand what standards have not been met than non-medical personnel. He or she will be able to detect what information may be missing from documentation; information that may be crucial to your case.
A lesser-known role of the legal nurse consultant in a medical malpractice case is the location of expert witnesses. A nurse can provide valuable insight on the type of expert needed and assist in reaching out to potential experts and interviewing them prior to the attorney contracting the expert’s help. This can save your legal team hours of tedious research and potential experts will feel more comfortable communicating with a fellow medical professional. In some cases legal nurse consultants can serve as expert witnesses themselves, which could save your practice thousands of dollars.
Legal nurse consultants can also assist with preparing for trial. They can assist with helping to determine what questions to ask and what information to request during discovery, as well as help with the preparation of interrogatories. Legal nurse consultants can break down explanations of medical procedures and standards of care in easy-to-understand bites of information, which can be used to paint a picture for the jury of how the medical professional failed the patient. Some legal nurse consultants even assist attorneys by creating exhibits that can be used as demonstrative evidence during trial.
Would any of these services be useful to your firm? Contact us.
I'm Jennifer Pettigrew and, true story, I first became interested in Legal Nurse Consulting after my auto insurance company was sued following a car accident in which I was found to be at fault. I wasn't sued until after the statute of limitations was up but an exception was made and the plaintiff alleged that because of being rear-ended he was on pain medications chronically which caused him to develop diabetes and become blind. As a nurse I knew that Diabetic retinopathy cannot develop over the course of just a few years but rather is a complication that develops after several years of untreated or poorly treated diabetes. The case was settled by the insurance company before ever going to court for several million dollars, but from that point on I have been interested in the difference medical professionals could make in legal proceedings.