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Six long weeks ago I took a break from my normal blog postings to talk about my mother Pat's sudden caving in to her advanced age of 90. This resulted in my need to stay in upper-state New York and become her caregiver. By Labor Day I breathed a sigh of relief as I managed to get her (and her cats!) back to Florida and back to her many, many, patient doctors.

Well.....two weeks later I joined her again after a hospitalization for breathing issues turned into a diagnosis of multiple terminal cancers. What a shock! Over the last forty years my mother had spent a small fortune on vitamins and supplements, all with the goal of making it to 120. I think she felt seriously cheated by all her those vitamin companies she'd kept on speed dial!

My sister Gayle grabbed a flight from Oregon and we set up shop here in Florida. The Rich girls were all together again- each talking over the other and vying for control over the decisions....with Pat winning of course (some things NEVER change). My sister and I found a home senior's care system and a local hospice group after she signed a DNR and determined would not seek any medical support beyond pain control.

In typical Pat fashion she set about calling relatives, friends, acquaintances, service companies, pharmacies, former doctors, former dance name it. She was strangely and incredibly delighted to announce her eminent death (I mean really...what do you say to that??) and got to relish shocking as many people as possible..and of course forcing them into telling her how wonderful she was. It was hysterical. I can honestly say that I have never, ever heard anyone (even former Presidents) take as many victory laps as Pat. At one point my 93 year old aunt unfortunately interrupted her very early in the call and got a chewing out - "I have something to say- be quiet!!" I am still cringing.

While Mom was busy telling her final story to one and all, my sister and I were working 24/7 to direct the parade of people, arrange for pest control (oh yes- a lovely infestation of German Roaches that would stop to salute as they marched through the kitchen) and clean, clean clean.

Mom held court for two weeks, enjoying all of the care and attention, especially from the senior care home workers and the hospice staff who would allow her to start her story with "I was born in 1931...". All declared that she showed no signs of moving to the light and could likely survive another six months. Bolstered by this report, my sister and I helped our mother dress and the Rich girls made our way to a favorite restaurant where we drank too many margaritas, told all of our best stories to the waiter and reminisced about our father for around two hours.

Just one week later, and probably again taking full control over all decisions, my wonderful, irascible, vociferous mother suddenly took a very serious turn for the worse. And, after finally caving in to placement in a hospital bed in the living room, her drive to remain solidly on earth for several more months sputtered out. Three days later, with my sister and I continually checking on her (she was giggling off and on!) Pat fell asleep and slipped peacefully away.

We all lose our parents at some point in our lives, it is a fact. But what is harder to explain is the sort of odd hole that is left when your parents are gone. I don't think I had quite realized how much space, both mental and physical, I had devoted to my mother. How that space will gradually fill is unknown, but what I do know is that there was no one, ever quite like my mother Pat. Good, often bad, but singularly Pat.

I promise once again to pick up the gauntlet on my normal blog story after my sister and I get through the mountain of paperwork that accompanies someone's passing. Honestly- this must be a trick created specifically to shorten the grieving period......... Until then, if you still have a parent in your life treasure the time you have left.

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Well folks- many apologies for the significant time lapse between my last Blog on the expert witness business and today’s report from the field. I hope folks don’t mind, but I’m going to take a step away from work for a minute and fill everybody in…..

I am at that age where like many people I am needed to assist a parent with the next and last phase of their life. And also like many folks that find themselves in this situation the role reversal comes with a great deal of conflict and careful negotiation….something very similar to working with hormonal teenagers.

My mother is 90 years old and while her body is struggling, her mind remains fairly intact, with some loss of executive functions beginning to make their appearance. However, her WILL is as strong as ever (shades of my own future- not wanting anyone to make decisions for me!). And it was exactly that force of nature known as “Pat” that managed to orchestrate getting herself from one end of the country to another this summer. Unfortunately, she was able to convince someone to take her to our family’s summer cottage, which is on an island in the Saint Lawrence River in the Thousand Islands.

I say “unfortunately” because there is nothing on the island beyond a Post Office and a community volunteer library. There are only footpaths and those are fairly treacherous. Anything that is needed must be done off the island, requiring a boat and then a car to drive to your destination- which for a 90-year-old is mostly doctor appointments or the grocery store. Do I need to even say that a 90-year-old with macular degeneration ~GASP~ and highly limited mobility should not operate machinery??

Complicating matters further even on a good day there is highly sketchy internet access on the island, and my mother who has decided that technology is completely over-rated, had no operating system for communication beyond her AARP flip phone. (The flip phone is not a smart phone but is the surviving model of at least six versions that she went through in the last year. She hates telephones almost as much as computers.)

Once her friend returned to Florida, my mother found herself on her own and struggling with even basic maneuvers like walking, carrying items, remembering to eat, take pills and feed her two cats. So…….that led to my relocating up to the river to care-take until I could orchestrate getting her home to Florida and helping to arrange for daily care.

I’m sure that there are several folks out there nodding their heads in understanding and sympathy- I feel your support!! As things stand today, I am back in my own home and lucky enough to find that I have a few expert witness cases on my docket. However, I know it is only a matter of time before I will be on a plane to Florida because as a dear friend said, “You do realize that she is not going to get better, right?” I actually had hoped to bury my head in the sand a bit longer (!), but reality is in front of me and I will deal with one decision at a time and simply try to enjoy the fact that I still have this venerable woman in my life.

Now that I have caught everyone up with my personal life, next week we’ll pick things up where I left off several weeks ago – we’ll talk about staying in your lane and what to do when your research uncovers more problems than solutions. Chao!

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  • Andrea Dobrin

Hello Fellow Travelers!

In our last discussion we went over some strategies to use to ensure payment for your services. This week we’ll talk about another big pitfall that can impact a new expert witness - finding the balance between your client’s wishes and your expert opinion.

Very few cases are cut and dry. In fact, there have been only two cases in my past where the client I was helping had done very little to warrant their inclusion in the lawsuit. However, in both cases the clients were minor players in much bigger suits that had multiple attorneys and law firms involved. They were both what I would call “add-ons” to the lawsuit, which is fairly common when Plaintiff’s attorneys need to include any and all parties, and will wait for the facts to shake out those that should or should not be involved. While these are dream cases for an Expert, they are rare. Most cases are messy and include things your client did right and mistakes that were made.

When you are first starting out in this business it takes some time and a few cases to “find your voice” (or at least it should – beware jumping out there thinking that saying whatever your client needs is a good strategy!). Finding your voice is simply my way of saying that there is a delicate balance in messy cases between wanting to respond to the needs of your client and not writing a report or testifying to a position that you cannot confidently defend.

One strategy that seasoned experts use is to focus on the areas where they are certain of their client’s position and side-step those areas where mistakes were made. These professionals are also very good at knowing how to deflect the opposing attorney’s questions at either the deposition or trial. For example, some will state they only addressed “X” in their report and are not prepared to present an opinion on “Y”. CAUTION – as you are learning the ropes remember that too many of these types of statements can significantly impact your reputation and value. At best you will look like you had not done your homework, at worst that you are shady. Trust me- neither is good.

Another danger a new expert can face is in writing a report that includes a position that you are not fully committed to. What I mean is, at some point you may be asked to address an aspect of the case in a very specific way. While attorneys know not to direct experts, some do like to offer very strong advice on your report. There is nothing at all wrong with this, in fact it can be helpful.......unless you are not confident about the opinion you included in your report. Be aware - if you are questioned closely about this opinion when you are deposed you WILL. BE. BUSTED. So remember - there is a very fine line from having an attorney ask you to highlight certain facts of a case and directing the content of your report. 99% of attorneys know exactly where the line is, but you as a new expert may not.

My best advice on this subject - use your gut. If what you are writing makes you squirm inside, then take note and only write what you really feel you can go to the mat defending. And how do you do that again? As I have said in many earlier blogs, do your research and from the very beginning be highly responsive and communicative with the attorney you are working with. Know that part of your job is to make sure that your attorney knows where the holes in their case are based on your area of expertise. As the case progresses and you learn more from the various depositions and other evidence that is uncovered it is likely that your position will shift….which is OK! Attorneys understand this, and will often ask that you write your report after the depositions are complete and the other experts have weighed in. The key is in communicating regularly so that once all the evidence is in front of you, you are much better prepared to provide an opinion that is honest, defensible and highlights the aspects of the case you are fully committed to. And most importantly, your attorney will know exactly what you are thinking and why.

That wraps up this week folks – next week we’ll talk about two other pitfalls: 1) what can happen when your research uncovers significantly more problems (YIKES!!) and 2) the temptation of offering opinions outside your expertise.

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