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Don Jacobs
Don Jacobs
Contributor •

The high cost of expert witnesses

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So you get in a car accident and injure yourself. Fortunately, the other guy had insurance. You treat for your injuries and heal up fairly well. You have some chiropractic bills, a bill from the emergency room, some physical therapy bills and maybe a bill from seeing a specialist for a second opinion. Let’s say your total medical bills come in around $5,000 to $6,000. All cases are valued individually, but this kind of case typically doesn’t bring big dollars at trial. Your own auto coverage probably paid your bills but warn they have to be paid back. If you make any kind of settlement with the other driver’s insurance, they will have their hand out. So you or your attorney package up all of your medical records and bills, a copy of the police report, the vehicle damage photos, witness statements and an essay on how you were affected by the injury and ship it off to the other carrier. Thirty days later they make you an offer that is so low it borders on insult. You are forced into accepting the offer or taking the case to court. You decide to try your luck at court. Now the bad news. Your attorney explains you need to have your doctors testify about your injury, the treatment and the reasonableness of their medical bills. Your attorney explains the cost of doing so can easily run more than your medical bills. Doctors don’t like to go to court. A common technique is to quote prices for testimony or attorney conferences so high they’ll never be asked to do so. Quotes of $600 or $1,200 an hour are common. $5,000 an hour isn’t unusual. One doctor just sent our office a letter one paragraph in length answering three questions about a case. The bill for the letter? A ridiculous $500. Many also charge a two or four hour minimum for any testimony time, no matter how much actual time they spend. And of course, they want it all up front two weeks in advance. Your attorney doesn’t have much choice. Without a medical witness you can’t prove your case. Some physicians seem to think attorneys have some magic source of funds that pays for these things. Guess who really ends up paying these charges? You do. The attorney may front the cost, but it comes out of your settlement when the case is concluded. This means your doctor ends up with a large part of your award. This practice makes it almost impossible to fight the insurance company on small or moderate value cases. They know this and use it to their advantage. There are some techniques your attorney can use, but this remains a real problem in trying to obtain reasonable settlements for injured consumers.