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June 23/30, 1999

Damages and the Expert Witness—Reply

Author Affiliations

Margaret A.WinkerMD, Deputy EditorIndividualAuthorPhil B.FontanarosaMD, Interim CoeditorIndividualAuthor

JAMA. 1999;281(24):2285-2286. doi:10-1001/pubs.JAMA-ISSN-0098-7484-281-24-jbk0623

In Reply: Experts, the only witnesses who are permitted to offer opinion evidence, are vital in medical malpractice cases. Without experts, the jury is unlikely to understand the issues; they need to be educated by the experts to arrive at an informed verdict. Too often, however, the medical issues strain the jury's ability to understand, so they may defer to the most persuasive expert. The jury system is thus vulnerable to abuse by lawyers who use the highly effective, perennial expert witness. Such individuals may testify in hundreds of cases, typically favor 1 side, and derive substantial income from their "forensic" activities. They may have more experience in depositions and in the courtroom than the lawyers questioning them, and may display consummate skill in anticipating and deflecting troublesome questions. They state their opinions with indignant conviction and support them with arguments polished by repeated use.