One of the most important and controversial figures in malpractice litigation is the physician expert witness. The number of malpractice suits and the size of awards for damages have grown substantially in recent years, greatly increasing demand for “expert witnesses.” The increasing number of expert witnesses has engendered the need for clear definition of their qualifications and guidelines for their behavior. The American Association for Thoracic Surgery has adopted the following statement of qualifications for expert witnesses and guidelines for behavior of AATS members when acting as experts in the legal system. These qualifications and guidelines apply equally to AATS members rendering expert opinions prior to the initiation of litigation.
Physicians have an ethical obligation to be impartial in legal proceedings, to refrain from adopting positions as advocates or partisans, and to testify for both plaintiffs and defendants.
Making false, misleading, or deceptive statements exposes physician expert witnesses to risks of criminal prosecution for perjury, civil suits for negligence, and revocation or suspension of their professional licenses. Violation of these guidelines may lead to disciplinary action by the AATS. (See Article IX of the AATS By-laws.)
Adopted by AATS Board of Directors, May 2008