Trials & Litigation

Tough Times for Expert Witnesses Sued By Own Clients for Negligence

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It may soon be harder to find experts to testify as witnesses in civil litigation if a trend toward allowing their own clients to sue them for negligence continues.

Courts in California and Utah recently recognized the validity of such suits in cases concerning, respectively, a real estate appraisal and medical testimony by an expert witness, reports the National Law Journal.

In the Utah case, the expert’s lawyer, Michael Skolnick of Kipp and Christian in Salt Lake City, says the problem wasn’t the way his client testified but the way the plaintiff’s counsel handled the underlying medical malpractice case.

A federal appeals court ruling upholding the validity of the lawsuit against the expert, who is a physician, along with similar cases elsewhere, will discourage some experts from testifying—and may sway the testimony of those who do continue to serve as experts, Skolnick and other observers contend. They also predict that a trend toward requiring experts to disclose financial information in court will discourage some from offering their services as witnesses in litigation.

“It encourages the perception that experts are nothing more than hired guns,” says Skolnick. “If you make the expert liable to his client, or if his opinion doesn’t turn out like the client wants, that discourages experts from serving.”

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