Treating Physician Testimony – Pitfalls for Plaintiffs & Opportunities for Defendants

A party that wants to rely upon the testimony of a treating physician to support a personal injury case in federal court should be sure to consult the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Different rules will apply depending on the scope of the treating physician’s testimony.

Rule 26 sets two standards for expert disclosures. 26(a)(2)(C) sets a “lower standard” that typically applies to treating physicians. Under this standard, the treating physician may provide testimony beyond his personal knowledge, but he must base his opinions on “facts or data obtained or observed in the course of the sequence of events giving rise to the litigation.”  LaShip, LLC v. Hayward Baker, Inc., 296 F.R.D. 475 (E.D.La. Nov. 13, 2013).  Further, the physician may be permitted to testify regarding causation and future medical treatment if these opinions come from the doctor’s actual treatment of the party.

Under this “lower standard,” the party seeking to offer the physician’s testimony, usually the plaintiff, must timely disclose: (1) the subject matter on which the treating physician is expected to present evidence; and (2) a summary of the facts and opinions to which he is expected to testify.  Importantly, production of a plaintiff’s medical records alone is not sufficient – the plaintiff must actually provide a summary of the physician’s opinions.  See e.g. Williams v. State, 2015 WL 5438596, at *4 (M.D. La. Sept. 14, 2015).  If the party fails to timely disclose this information, he runs a substantial risk of having his testimony excluded from trial.

Where the physician’s testimony goes beyond the medical records or his treatment of the plaintiff, a “higher standard” can apply to the physician’s testimony. Rule 26(a)(2)(B). The physician may be required to produce a complete expert report to disclose: (1) a complete statement of all opinions the witness will express and the basis and reasons for them; (2) the facts or data considered by the witness in forming them; (3) any exhibits that will be used to summarize or support them; (4) the witness’s qualifications, including a list of publications authored in the last 4 years; (5) a list of all cases the expert has been used as an expert at trial or in depositions; and (6) a statement of the compensation the witness is to be paid for his work and testimony.

Application of this “higher standard” often turns on the frequency and recency of the physician’s treatment. Courts are also more likely to apply the higher standard when the physician’s opinions are based general scientific knowledge of the plaintiff’s condition rather than his actual treatment of the plaintiff.

 

John Grinton, a Keogh Cox associate whose practice areas include commercial and construction litigation. When he is not practicing law, John spends most of his time with his wife and son, and their two dogs.