The success or failure of any medical negligence case rests squarely upon the medical facts, yet it is the competence of the testifying expert that ultimately allows those facts to be discovered and voiced. Consequently, the starting point of any successful outcome must be the selection of the best expert witness. Whether opining for the plaintiff or the defense, the litigator with the top medical expert secures a strong competitive advantage.
The first step in selecting an expert is to assure the strength of his or her credentials. In general, however, most credible experts have graduated from a US medical school and have attended a US residency program for specialty training. Those that attend top-tier schools such as Ivy League universities may have an intangible perception of elevated credibility based solely upon their credentials. Experts should be in full-time practice both presently and at the time of the alleged negligence, though exceptional experts may have additional fellowship training or publications within the specific area of medicine which they are addressing. Experts should have extensive clinical experience which manifests itself in professionalism, confidence, and fluency.
Beyond the essential traits outlined above, there is one additional factor that often affords a tactical benefit: academic affiliation. Academic affiliation means that the expert serves on the faculty of a major university medical center. Depending on their degree of tenure, these elite experts hold the title of Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, or Professor, respectively. To gain such a title and then ascend in rank, academic experts must maintain a full-time practice of patient care in addition to academic responsibilities which include both teaching and research. In so doing, academic experts build lengthy CV’s detailing their education, committee involvement, research, awards, and publications. Since academic physicians are also precluded from advertising or promoting their services, they are often viewed as more impartial and altruistic than other experts whose services may be more available. Juries often perceive physicians at the professorial level as the ultimate authorities in their field and they ascribe particular significance to their testimony. Throughout all phases of litigation and especially in the courtroom, the side with the “Top Medical Expert” may possess a true strategic advantage.