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  • Andrea Dobrin

Traveling with a Newbie Expert or ……..Back in the Saddle!

Well, sorry folks- it has been two months since I could get back to any type of “normal”. For those of you out there who also have been left with the responsibility of a parent’s estate, you have my profound respect and sympathy. It’s an amazing amount of work!

All that aside, I was able to complete one of my cases during the last couple of months as well as start a new one. So, I was at least not completely unproductive on the business side of things. In fact, a timely discussion with the attorney from my last case falls directly in line with where I left you all- staying in your lane and what to do when your research uncovers more problems.

It is fair to say that I have a deeply analytical side to my personality. It is probably one of the things that appealed to me most about taking on the work of an expert witness- I can really relate to the investigation process as I had a steady diet of investigating incidents for several years in my career.

In my industry, social services, there are an unending number of documents. So, much like the medical field where everything is captured for the record, social services agencies must memorialize their work, and it is often duplicated in several different places.

When first reading through a case (I like to start with the Complaint) I will immediately write down all of the documents that I think will be relevant to my review. Then, working with the attorney I will start to go through whatever information is provided that has already cropped up through discovery or in the depositions. Most of the time I find that what I am looking for has not yet been pulled for the attorney’s review. And that is usually because neither side knows specifically what to ask for (which is why pulling in an expert as early as possible is the smart way to go).

Once I have reviewed what was provided and asked for any missing information, what happens if I uncover what might be critical information that doesn’t technically fall under my area of expertise, but is within my experience? Is this a good thing, or a bad thing?

Let me give an example from my own experience. For about eight years I administratively oversaw four divisions in three separate, but affiliated behavioral health corporations. These divisions included Risk Management, Quality Assurance, Human Resources and a non-profit Pharmacy.

Each of the divisions involved understanding a wide range of rules and regulations, but the daily exposure to overseeing the pharmacy led me to a fairly good understanding of psychotropic medications, types, dosages and side effects, for both kids and adults. Does this make me an expert? No, but I do know enough to have a very strong interest in the influence of these medications on the cases I am reviewing, particularly as both individuals with Severe Mental Illness and/or Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities tend to be prescribed extraordinary numbers of drugs at often extraordinary dosage levels.

When recently faced with a confusing death case, I took a detour into the medical reports, autopsy documents and nursing notes. Knowing what I do, I saw that one of the medications was prescribed at double the maximum recommended dosage. In addition, the medication was combined with another that when taken together could produce significant medical side effects.

What to do? I am not a pharmacist and could not touch that information with a ten foot pole, (I have zero desire to be skewered by opposing counsel and experts). What I did do was bring my suspicions to the attorney, who listened thoughtfully and then reminded me to “stay in my lane”. Was I offended? Not really. The advice was sound and a timely reminder, HOWEVER, I did want to impress on this attorney that seeking an expert in the medical field could be advantageous. (They did end up following this advice from me- which proved to be instrumental- so hooray! But one more important comment - I did not bill for the time I spent looking at the information that technically was not in my purview - so beware of the curious mind- you might lose both time and money.)

It is a fact that many of us who become expert witnesses have had lengthy careers that have crossed several industries and organizations. That exposure provides a wide range of knowledge and experience….but not necessarily expertise. Knowing how to stick to your area of expertise is critical however, it is never a bad thing to use your experience to assist your attorney. Just be careful not to spend too much time as it is mostly unbillable, and DO NOT address these opinions in your report, no matter how tempting.

Welcome back to the journey Newbie Experts!

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