Understanding Medical Experts in Florida’s Worker’s Comp Cases

Witness swearing on bible telling the truthInjuries can happen in any workplace, whether it is an office building or a construction site. Workplace injuries, however, are more than an inconvenience, and can lead to lengthy litigation. They can not only put off a work schedule, but can leave people with potentially serious injuries that may result in disability or death. While there are many necessary steps in a worker’s compensation case, there needs to be proof that the accident was the cause of the injuries. While any party can testify to his own experiences, proving the extent of injuries or other medically related information can only be done through supporting evidence such as medical records or medical expert testimony. Typically, one would use medical experts in order to establish the extent of an injury. In Florida, however, there has been recent litigation that may affect the use of medical expert testimony in worker’s compensation cases.

Medical Experts

A medical expert is any person with the training, experience, and competency to act as an expert on a matter. In order to provide adequate advice in court, however, medical experts must not only be experienced in a matter, but must also meet a number of other requirements listed out in Florida Statute 90.702 . Not only must an expert’s testimony be based on sufficient facts or data, it must also be the product of reliable principles and methods, and the witness must have applied the principles to the facts of the case. The purpose behind this rule is primarily to protect parties from medical opinions that are based solely on the opinion of the witness.

A medical expert can testify for a number of purposes, including:

  • To establish the extent of damage
  • To provide opinion on the permanency of an injury
  • To provide opinion on the effects of an injury
  • To provide opinion on necessary medical treatment, and
  • To provide opinion on whether the accident could have caused the injury

Not only can a medical expert be called in for several purposes, but also, the type of medical expert that may be used in court can have a variety of connections to the plaintiff. For example, the medical expert can be the treating physician, a specialist with extensive knowledge on certain injuries or disabilities, or can even be a physician who has examined the client in preparation for litigation.

While there can be a variety of medical experts, they are not necessarily weighed on the same ground when it comes to admitting their testimony in court. The opinions of authorized treating physicians need no further authentication to be admitted as evidence. On the other hand, the opinions of independent medical examiners must, at the very least, be authenticated in order to avoid any objections regarding the admissibility of the evidence.

Expert Medical Advisors

While the term “medical expert” can cover a broad range of medical personnel, there is another type of medical personnel that can testify in court. These individuals are typically referred to as expert medical advisors and can be called the judge of compensation claims. The rules and regulations regarding medical expert advisors can be found in Florida Statute 440.13. The primary difference between expert medical advisors and other medical expert witnesses is that, unlike medical expert witnesses, the medical expert advisor is generally called in to resolve conflict between two healthcare providers. As a result, the expert medical advisor typically carries more credibility since he or she is only called in to the case to determine which medical expert is correct and because he or she is not hired by any one side. A judge may call for an examination by an expert medical advisor when two healthcare providers disagree on certain factors, which include:

  • Medical evidence supporting the employee’s claim
  • Whether the employee can return to work
  • The employee’s need for additional medical treatment

Once an expert medical advisor has been called into the case by the judge, the plaintiff is then scheduled for an examination with the expert medical advisor.

Under Florida section 440.13, opinions of expert advisors that have been admitted into court carry with them a presumption of correctness. That being said, while the admissibility cannot be challenged, parties can rebut the opinion of the medical expert if they can prove by clear and convincing evidence that the expert testimony is incorrect. In addition, not only do expert medical advisors provide testimony that is presumed to be correct, but also, lawsuits for malpractice cannot be brought against an expert medical advisor absent any showing of fraud or malice.