I have been away from the blog for a few days because I have been preparing for an oral argument in the Court of Appeals of Maryland. See, when I ignore you readers it is only because I have been doing big, important lawyer-type things.
Yesterday, I argued two consolidated appeals where the issue is the scope of discovery that lawyers can obtain into the financial bias of retained expert witnesses. Nearly every Maryland personal injury case involves some type of expert testimony.
Generally, this falls into two categories. First are treating doctors who are drawn into cases simply because they happened to treat a patient who was injured in a way that later became the subject of litigation. These are not the people I am concerned with. Second, are experts who are only involved in the case because they are sought by one side or the other to give opinion testimony for money, specifically for the purpose of litigation. The way this mostly comes up in what I do is the defense side on an auto or trucking accident case hires a doctor to examine the plaintiff and to testify to one of the following: 1) There is nothing wrong with them; 2) There is something wrong with them, but it is not as bad as they say it is; or 3) There is something wrong with them, and it is as bad as they say it is, but it was caused by anything other than the accident.
What I see is the same group of doctors being used repeatedly by certain defense attorneys, law firms, and insurance companies. Many of these doctors are very well compensated for giving testimony. I have encountered doctors who have billed as much as a million dollars in one year for doing this type of work.
We want to put this information before the jury to show that the witness is biased in favor of those who are writing his very large paycheck. Often, the witness will not tell us how much they are paid for working as a professional witness, or will greatly under-report their earnings. So we subpoena financial documentation to see if we are being given a straight answer.
The Court of Appeals is expected to address the scope of the documentation we are able to obtain, and the means for obtaining it. The opinion could have broad implications for all Maryland lawyers handling injury cases. I think the oral argument went pretty well. If you are interested and have the free time, you can see the argument here. They are cases No. 60 and 90.
I am not sure how long it will take the court to issue an opinion, but I expect to wait at least a few months. I will post the opinion when it comes out. I am hoping the court will come down on the side of our juries having accurate information about the self-interest of the witnesses presented to them.