What types of expert witnesses are used in cerebral palsy and birth injury lawsuits?
Medical expert testimony will almost always be required in cerebral palsy or birth injury lawsuits. In many birth injury cases, expert witnesses fall into two distinct categories: 1) experts to establish the standard of care and causation and 2) experts to establish resulting damages. If the case proceeds to trial, the experts are likely called upon to testify in court and explain their opinions to the judge and jury hearing the matter.
Use of experts to explain complex medicine
As the party initiating a lawsuit, the plaintiff has the burden of proving their case and has the option of choosing which type of expert to retain in order to present the strongest case. In complex medical cases, several physicians or medical professionals may be retained to help the breakdown complicated medical information that is necessary to the underlying claim of negligence and how the treating physicians may have deviated from the standard of care. Yet another physician, usually a specialist, may be brought in to breakdown the specifics surrounding the child’s disabilities / injuries both at the time of the trial and throughout the course of the child’s life.
Possible medical experts in CP cases include:
- Pediatric neurologist (usually the most important witness in cases involving pediatric brain damage)
- Perinatologist (obstetrician who practices maternal-fetal medicine)
- Developmental psychologist
- Physical therapist
Expert witnesses for the child’s damages
The second group of experts— damages experts– take on a tremendous significance in birth injury lawsuits involving children who may need a lifetime of care. Drawing upon years of education and specialized training, damage witnesses in birth injury cases are asked to quantify many of the intangible– and uncertain aspects of a child’s birth-related injury. Depending on the type of injury or disability, many birth injury lawsuits draw upon doctors or other professionals with training in life care planning. An expert trained in life care planning will analyze a child’s medical records, conduct examinations and interviews and devise a customized plan that anticipates the medical, social, and care-related needs of the individual throughout the course of their life.
Life care plans
Many care plans for children with significant disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, may call for specialized handicapped vehicles, round-the-clock care, and specialized medical equipment like motorized wheelchairs, computers or orthopedic devices. An expert in life care planning can anticipate what the individuals needs will likely be and how frequently the equipment will likely need to be replaced or modified.
In order to provide a reliable cost for these goods and services suggested in a plaintiff’s life care plan, an economist is commonly retained to provide an explanation as to how much the cost would be to fund those expected needs. After analyzing different rates of return and the anticipated life expectancy of the individual, the economist can present a present cash value– or the amount of money needed today, to fund the child’s needs in the future.
Importance of experts to secure the best possible outcome
Given that once a verdict is achieved or settlement is negotiated, the underlying case is forever dismissed against the responsible parties, it is crucial for lawyers representing children in birth injury cases to secure the most qualified experts in order to protect their clients future.
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Pediatric Neurologist
- Baby Partner: Perinatologist
- Am. Coll. Of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (Acog) Bull. 163, Fetal and Neonatal Neurologic Injury (Jan. 1992).