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How Reliable Is Doctor Testimony in Medical Malpractice Cases?

A big part of proving fault in a medical malpractice claim is demonstrating that a doctor or medical professional failed to meet a standard of care. And establishing that standard can often rely on testimony from other doctors and medical professionals who can say whether or not their colleagues met the applicable standard of care.

But according to one doctor, this kind of expert testimony can't always be trusted. Physician Lars Aanning admitted to lying on behalf of a fellow doctor in a malpractice trial almost 20 years ago, and his confession casts a shadow on all doctor testimony in medical malpractice cases.

Doctors Helping Doctors

Aanning was testifying in a lawsuit filed against a medical clinic colleague, who was being sued after a patient suffered a stroke while being operated on. When asked if he knew of any time his partner's work had been substandard, Aanning replied, "No, never." The former physician now admits he lied to protect his colleague.

"I did it as a matter of course," Aanning told Pro Publica. "And I did it because there was a cultural attitude I was immersed in: You viewed all attorneys as a threat and anything that you did was OK to thwart their efforts to sue your colleagues. I just accepted that as normal. It wasn't like, 'I'm going to lie.' It was, 'I'm going to support my colleague.'"

While it is possible Aanning's testimony swayed the jury in the case (the patient lost the malpractice suit), he says he can't bear that thought. "I haven't touched on that question," he said. "It would make it painful for me. I would be moved to tears if that whole case revolved around just my testimony."

Switching Sides

Aanning now helps plaintiffs and their attorneys in building medical malpractice cases, admitting "it was never a level playing field for the plaintiff. People don't recognize it. How the judges don't recognize it and the system doesn't recognize it is beyond me. It's something I'm coming to grips with."

Medical malpractice cases hinge on establishing a doctor's duty of care, and demonstrating whether or not she failed to meet that standard. If a doctor defendant calls his colleagues to the stand to testify on his behalf, plaintiffs and their attorneys should be ready to discredit that testimony or at least point out the conflict of interest involved.

Any lawsuit involving an injury can be complex, and medical malpractice cases are especially complicated. If you've been injured by a doctor or medical professional, talk to an experienced personal injury attorney today.

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