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South Carolina Medical Professionals Cheat Sheet to Legal Depositions

I am a lawyer not a doctor. Doctors are medical professionals trying to help people get better by diagnosing, treating, and preventing. When we step outside our profession and into another professional arena we know very little about, it can be confusing. No matter how much reality television we watch, it may not carry over to the realities we live in.

In the short time I have been an attorney, it never ceases to make me laugh when I go to a doctor’s deposition. We, as lawyers, have to ask certain questions in certain ways to meet legal thresholds and adhere to the prevailing rules of evidence, which makes those questions sound verbose, obnoxious, and confusing.

  1. “Doctor  ______, is it your opinion to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that it is more probable than not, that my client’sdisc herniation were caused/aggravated/ and/or made worse from the motor vehicle collision/slip and fall/dog bite?”
  2. “Doctor ______, based on your education, observations, and medical treatment of my client, was it medically necessary to send them for physical therapy/diagnostic testing/pain management as a result of the motor vehicle collision/slip and fall/dog bite?”
  3. “Doctor ______, do you have an opinion to a reasonable degree of medical certainty as to the permanent impairments my client would be assigned under the AMA guidelines?”

It’s important for medical professionals to understand that Plaintiffs have the burden of proving their case by the preponderance of the evidence. The most common example is the tipping of the scales of justice ever so slightly to provide an imbalance that would warrant the “preponderance” part, “more likely than not”. (David Swanner of South Carolina Trial Law Blog gives several good examples).

Therefore, medical professionals don’t have to know 100% one way or the other. They just have to give an opinion (based on a reasonable degree of medical certainty) whether an injury or aggravation of a pre-existing injury is “more likely than not”/ “more than a 50% chance”/ “ever so slightly tips the scales” was caused or directly affected by the trauma.

Plus, know what you charge for your office visits. You are a professional and are running a business. In the 100 or more medical depositions that I have taken, not one medical professional has been able to tell me what they charge per office visit. That could be one explanation in the health insurance and medical professional struggle now. How can you talk about lost profits and exorbitant prices when you have no clue about money, fees, or service costs directly related to services rendered?

This is the typical response cut and pasted directly from an recent examination of my client’s treating physician’s deposition:

I can’t make an assessment about causation.  When I see a patient or take care of patients, I’m not really thinking about, you know, is this going to go to a legal situation. I’m mostly concerned about the patients and their well-being so I just go what they tell me, by the history.  So the answer to your question is:  I don’t know.  I can’t say with 100 percent certainty that the motor vehicle accident caused the herniated disk.

I asked the questions previously discussed. Do you have an opinion? Not can you tell me for certain. Plus, if you were truly concerned for the patient, you would also be concerned about the financial stress and misery of undergoing medical treatment and being personally responsible for the medical services you have rendered to them unless you agree that someone else affected their pre-existing injury or caused new injuries.

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