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J Neurosurg. 2014 Jan;120(1):185-90. doi: 10.3171/2013.8.JNS13584. Epub 2013 Sep 27.

Comparison of plaintiff and defendant expert witness qualification in malpractice litigation in neurological surgery.

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Departments of Neurological Surgery and.



Expert witnesses provide a valuable societal service, interpreting complex pieces of evidence that may be misunderstood by nonmedical laypersons. The role of medical expert witness testimony and the potential professional repercussions, however, have been controversial in the medical community. The objective of the present analysis was to characterize the expertise of neurological surgeons testifying as expert witnesses in malpractice litigation.


Malpractice litigation involving expert testimony from neurological surgeons was obtained using the WestlawNext legal database. Data pertaining to duration of a surgeon's practice, scholarly impact (as measured by the h index), practice setting, and the frequency with which a surgeon testifies were obtained for these expert witnesses from various online resources including the Scopus database, online medical facility and practice sites, and state medical licensing boards.


Neurological surgeons testifying in 326 cases since 2008 averaged over 30 years of experience per person (34.5 years for plaintiff witnesses vs 33.2 for defense witnesses, p = 0.35). Defense witnesses had statistically higher scholarly impact than plaintiff witnesses (h index = 8.76 vs 5.46, p < 0.001). A greater proportion of defense witnesses were involved in academic practice (46.1% vs 24.4%, p < 0.001). Those testifying on behalf of plaintiffs were more likely to testify multiple times than those testifying on behalf of defendants (20.4% vs 12.6%).


Practitioners testifying for either side tend to be very experienced, while those testifying on behalf of defendants have significantly higher scholarly impact and are more likely to practice in an academic setting, potentially indicating a greater level of expertise. Experts for plaintiffs were more likely to testify multiple times. Surgical societies may need to clarify the necessary qualifications and ethical responsibilities of those who choose to testify.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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