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Expert Witness Qualification in Malpractice Litigation in Hand Surgery
Stella Chung, MS; Paul J. Therattil, MD; Jeffrey Chen, BS; Edward Lee, MD; Mark Granick, MD
Rutgers University New Jersey Medical School, Newark, NJ

Background: Many hand specialists are dropping their on-call privileges due to decreasing reimbursement rates and high malpractice insurance costs. More than 42% of physicians have been involved in a legal dispute over the course of their careers. One of the critical factors in juror decision is expert medical testimony. Historically, the role of medical experts has been controversial. We aim to examine the credentials of expert witnesses (EWs) and their impact on malpractice litigations against hand surgeons.
Methods: The Westlaw legal database was accessed for jury verdict and settlement reports related to hand surgery malpractice from 2009 to April 2015. Cases included for analysis were examined for expert witness testimony, year of report, procedure performed, alleged injury, cause of action, verdict, and indemnity payments. Board certification, training, and practice setting information of the expert witnesses were obtained from hospital/department, personal practice, and state licensing websites.
Results: Of 45 cases, 91.2% were favorable to the defendants. The most commonly litigated injuries were carpal tunnel syndrome (18.2%) and finger fracture (15.9%). Of 57 EWs specified as hands surgeons in the court documents, 34 (59.6%) were board certified in surgery of the hand and 32 (56.1%) testified on behalf of plaintiffs. Plaintiff EWs had similar years of clinical experience compared to defendant EWs (24.7 vs. 24.8), but had lower h-index (3.0 vs. 8.1, p=0.03), number of publications (8.8 vs. 47.2, p=0.0004), and were less likely to practice in an academic setting (9.4% vs. 44.0%, p=0.005).
Conclusion: Hand surgery experts testifying on behalf of defendants had greater scholarly impact and were more likely to be academic faculty. As medical malpractice continues to raise healthcare costs, the role of expert testimony in legal judgments is more important than ever. Qualifications of EWs must be vigilantly reviewed by professional organizations as well as on a national level.

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