Sunday, October 10, 2010

Legal Wrangling

I was in court as an expert witness, testifying at the request of the insurance company in a personal injury case! The plaintiffs' lawyer was cross examining me on the basis of my previously rendered report! I had examined the plaintiff earlier and had reviewed all the documentation germane to his medical condition, consisting of records both before and after the accident. This material included the hand written notes of the emergency room physician at the time of the car accident. This particular physician had quite terrible handwriting but we were accustomed to deciphering one another's script or scribble, so it was do-able for me. Cipher was a good word for it though! In the copy of the emergency physicians note I had circled two words,though I didn't refer to them in my report! The plaintiff lawyer showed me the copy of the emergency report from my chart and asked "Is this your circle around these words?" "Yes", I said. He then asked me, "What are these words?" I said "Hyperventilating and circumoral numbness". He paused, so I said, "Do you want to know the significance of that observation?" "No," he said," I just asked you what the words were!" After he concluded his cross examination the defense lawyer rose for a re-cross question and asked what the significance of these words were. All hell broke loose and the plaintiff lawyer appealed to the judge that the question was improper since he had not opened the question of "significance". They argued the point for about ten minutes and the judge agreed that the court would not address the significance. I swore in court to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth! I'm impressed that due to the arcane logic of the lawyers, that the whole truth is often not addressed. The whole truth means consideration of all evidence, favorable or otherwise, rather than some truths buried by arcane rules of evidence. As a physician I couldn't make a good assessment without all the evidence available! Why not find out everything? Why suppress anything? Making argument, making judgement, expert witnessing, should, in an ideal world, be peopled by those completely indifferent to the outcome. The only interested parties should be the plaintiff and the defense! Adversarial, alright, but based on the whole truth, not half-truths! Law reform in British Columbia needs to go well beyond Duty to the Court and promises of unbiased and independent expert witnesses. It's just a good start!

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