The importance of cross-examination of physicians can be seen in the fact that the majority of cases involving litigation require medical evidence. There are certain routine standard methods of cross-examining doctors which all lawyers follow. The thoroughness of cross-examination depends in part upon the time allotted or the strategy being pursued.
There are usually five points covered; the past history, the present history, the physical examination, the opinion as to casual relationship and degree of casually related disability.
The witnesses are asked to cover these points. In some states, such as New York, where the doctor files medical reports prior to trial, the hearing representative, in preparing for the trial, should familiarize himself with the contents of these reports.
Then he can check the testimony of the witness against the reports filed, highlighting, whenever he can, any conflicting statements.
A comprehensive analysis of the medical reports submitted over a period of months will themselves usually reveal contradictions in history or physical findings. These contrary lines provide approaches for the cross-examiner and serve to weaken the effectiveness of the medical witness. In an effort to highlight discrepancies, the original office records of the doctor should be reviewed during the trial and compared with the reports he had submitted and the testimony being given.
The existence of prior complaints enables the hearing man to ask detailed questions such as:
o Did the doctor determine the nature of the past chief complaints of the patient?
o Its onset, character, duration?
o Did he know all the details of the previous illness?
o Had he checked prior hospitalizations and noticed contents of those hospital records?
o Did he determine the character of the present complaints in relation to the preexisting ones?
o Were there any differences?
o How did he differentiate between them?
o How can he dissociate the one complaint and disability from the other?
o Where there any new symptoms first manifested after the accident not due to the accident?
o A vigorous inquiry into the claimant’s prior medical history and scrutiny of the doctor’s knowledge of the claimant’s prior medical history is part of every able cross-examination.
The doctor’s role as an expert witness in workmen’s compensation cases is one that warrants criticism many times. The doctor-witness appears before a referee or commissioners who are capable of understanding medical testimony. Despite this, many doctors come in regularly as professional scouts for that disease known as “compensationitis.”