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MEDICO-LEGAL

Medico-Legal

Solicitors often ask orthopaedic surgeons to act as Expert Witnesses. This is usually for personal injury claims arising from someone else's negligence. Claims fall into two main categories: Medical Negligence; and other Personal Injury claims.

An expert witness's opinion has to be impartial, and it is given for the benefit of the court (ie the judge) not the solicitors, the defendant or the claimant. The expert's opinion is just his or her opinion, but will often be based on work published by others in orthopaedic journals or text books. The expert does not have to be "beyond reasonable doubt" about this opinion, he or she just needs to weigh the "balance of probabilities"; so being 51% confident is enough for the court. This is quite different from looking after a child (or adult) for treatment, when the orthopaedic surgeon has to be as sure as possible about everything.

Medical Negligence

This means giving an opinion on whether a child's diagnosis, investigations or treatment was below the standard expected of a competent orthopaedic surgeon, and whether this has led to any harm, however slight it may seem. To answer this it is necessary to examine the child's medical records, including their x-rays and/or scans. It may mean examining the child as well, particularly if required to give a prognosis for the future. Sometimes the patient is an adult by the time the case comes to litigation.

Writing medical negligence reports is a lengthy process, and it can take 3 months to find enough time to do it properly. A doctor should only offer an opinion on medical negligence if the alleged negligence falls within his or her particular area of expertise.

Personal Injury

Solicitors often ask orthopaedic surgeons to give an opinion on the cause and consequences of someone's injury. For example, if someone slips on a wet floor they can be compensated for an injury sustained. The compensation usually comes from the insurance policy of the person responsible. To make it fair, orthopaedic surgeons are asked to give an opinion on whether the accident is consistent with the injury claimed, whether the reported symptoms are consistent with the injury, and whether any claimed losses (eg time off work, inability to do housework, loss of gym membership fees etc) are reasonable. The report is for the benefit of the court, as above. All orthopaedic surgeons in the UK are trained in adult and children's trauma, and can therefore prepare reports for the courts for personal injury claims.

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