A column in the July 17th Oregonian newspaper discussed one of the big problems in trying to obtain justice for an injury victim. The topic was the high cost of expert witnesses. On just about every personal injury case a victim must put on proof he or she was injured and that the injury was caused by someone else’s negligence. Whether injured in an auto accident, hurt by a negligent doctor, injured by a defective product or just hurt when you tripped over a hazard in a retail store, the only way to prove this is by asking one of your doctors to testify. We all know doctors, like many professionals, have to charge for their time. Historically, asking a doctor to leave his office for a few hours to come to court would mean you’d have to compensate him for roughly the amount he would have made seeing patients in his office that day. Some doctors, not wanting to get involved, started charging an extra premium in the hopes the patient and their attorney would just go away and drop the case. This practice soon became widespread, with many doctors charging not just a premium, but quoting process so high, the cost of bringing them almost meant that any money recovered in the case for pain and suffering would all just go to the doctor. Insurance companies, seeing this practice, started offering less and less on smaller cases. They knew the victim wouldn’t have much choice, given the high cost of bringing a doctor into court. The Oregonian column lays out the dilemma injured consumers face quite nicely. In the column, a story is told of one injured consumer’s attempt to have their surgeon testify that his injury was caused by the accident and that the surgery was necessary and reasonably priced. The cost from the doctor to appear, try $14,000 for four hours of court time. That’s four hours minimum. In other words, even if the doctor only left his office for an hour or two, the full $14,000 had to be paid. And the money had to be paid up front. And what if the case settled, like so many do, just before trial? Well, it better settle at least 14 days before the trial. If not, the $14,000 is non refundable. Let’s do the math here. If the doctor worked a 40 hour week and took two weeks of vacation a year, those rates would generate a gross income of $7,000,000 a year. Is this typical of the income surgeons are making in their practices? Do they really lose $14,000 in income if they leave their office for four hours? No wonder insurance companies are offering less and less in settlements. Who can blame them?
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