Thursday, December 20, 2018


Shortly before I retired from Columbia, I had a phone call from a colleague who was my opposite number at another hospital. We had served together on several of national committees and had become friends. “I need your help,” he said. “I am up to my neck in cases and a new one has come along that I don’t have the time for right now. Could you possibly take it?”
“Cases, what kind of cases?” I asked.
“You know, as an expert witness.”
“But I don’t know anything about being an expert witness.”
“Don’t worry, just contact the lawyers, and they will tell you what to do.”
“Ok, I will give it a try”.

The next day, I drove to Hartford and met the attorney. He described the case and what he needed, and I agreed to try. A few days later a number of cartons arrived at my house. Each was packed full of medical records, and I set about examining them to arrive at an opinion. This was the first case in what would be fifteen years of my next career.

I learned how to advertise my services. With each case I learned more about our legal system. Unlike science, the legal system is not a search for truth. In civil cases, the side with the preponderance of evidence wins. Sometimes I worked for the defendant and other times for the plaintiff, the party claiming injury. Over more than fifteen years, I worked on eighty cases.

I learned techniques for dealing with opposing lawyers during rapid fire cross examination and their tricky questions like “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”

Over the years, certain cases stand out in my memory. One such case was working for the defendant, an obstetrician who delivered an infant who grew up somewhat mentally handicapped. The mother claimed that the doctor had let labor proceed too long. I suspected the problem might be due to an infection by an organism carried by cats. When it was determined that the mother did indeed have a cat, I requested tests on the child that were positive for that disease, thus freeing the doctor from the plaintiff’s claim.

In another case, a man was treated for kidney stones. Eleven days later he became ill with fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and joint and muscle aches. The record showed evidence of spider bites, and I provided the attorney for the plaintiff evidence that the man’s demise was probably due to the bite of a brown recluse spider rather than the treatment for kidney stones.

Another case required me to travel to Australia to testify in a case involving a class action against an international company that manufactured an intrauterine contraceptive device. The trip to Sydney was a long one, but I travelled business class. Australia uses the British legal system and the barristers wear wigs and black robes and have to bow when entering or leaving the courtroom.

The last case I will tell you about was in a Texas court specializing in class action suits. The law firm I was working for represented the plaintiffs and was not expected to win this case. The trial was held on a hot afternoon, and the courtroom was warm. I was on the stand, testifying about a case when I observed several of the jurors nodding off. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the judge was dozing, and I did something unusual by breaking a strict rule that a witness must never address the judge. I turned to the judge and asked “ Your honor, do you understand the significance of a word I had used?” The judge shook his head there upon I delivered a brief lecture designed to inform him and the jury about the case. It turned out that we won the case, and the judge cited my testimony in his decision.

I attended many depositions and a number of trials. I found the adversarial process to be stimulating and enjoyed the competition.

Eventually my loss of vision precluded further work as an expert witness. From time to time colleagues who were themselves asked to perform as experts would contact me for details as to how to go about it. In response to these inquires I wrote a book. This one was non-fiction and is called The Biomedical Scientist as Expert Witness. ASM Press 2006. This book continues to sell a few copies every year, and it is the only one of my books with that distinction. Go figure.