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SA Orthopaedic Journal

On-line version ISSN 2309-8309
Print version ISSN 1681-150X

SA orthop. j. vol.11 n.1 Centurion Jan. 2012




Will the real expert witness please take the stand



Prof TLB le Roux

President: South Afican Orthopaedic Association




Over the past years I have been involved in several medical legal cases in which some of our senior colleagues were asked to be expert witnesses. I am sad to say that some of them were mangled by the opposition's legal teams.

The prime consideration for a medical expert is an ethical one. Carter (2012) asks this crucial question: 'Must an expert witness in a medical malpractice case put on his [or her] gloves, take up the cause, and fight for the party who instructs him [or her]?'

It is common knowledge among legal experts that the medical evidence in a malpractice case determines its outcome to a great extent; therefore the medical expert summoned to take the stand has the obligation to assist the court in coming to a correct decision with respect to issues relating to his or her field of specialisation. As a witness the medical expert has to remain objective and independent and cannot propagate an individual's case.

Expert witnesses in medical malpractice cases who do propagate a party's case jeopardise their reputation and run the risk of facing civil claims and/or complaints to the HPCSA.

Medical practitioners should guard against acting as an expert witness for a patient should their relationship with such a patient render their objective opinion questionable. It is imperative that the medical expert remain objective at all costs.



1. Carter, M. 2012. MPS: On neutral ground. Accessed on 4 March 2012 from:        [ Links ]

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