Almost every case involving a personal injury requires the testimony of an expert witness to establish the extent of the injury. Typically, the defense’s expert and the plaintiff’s expert will disagree over the extent of the injury and the amount of damage caused by the defendant’s negligence. This is referred to as “the battle of the experts.”
Unlike fact witnesses, experts are allowed to offer “opinion testimony.” For instance, while a fact witness would only be permitted to tell a jury that he saw a red Mustang run a red light and collide with a green minivan, the mechanical expert would be able to offer an opinion about the Mustang’s break system. Additionally, the plaintiff and defense would each call witnesses to give their opinions about the recovery of the plaintiff.
But what happens when one of those experts lies in court?
In a deposition for a medical malpractice trial, Miami heart surgeon Dr. Alex Zakharia lied about his credentials. Dr. Zakharia was testifying on behalf of a man suing the Veteran’s Administration and testified that he had extensive experience in coronary bypass surgeries. However, a quick check with the records at the Miami Heart Institute and Cedars Medical Center, where Zakharia worked, revealed no such thing.
Zakharia was subsequently indicted on fraud and perjury charges. As part of his plea agreement, he was to give up his medical license. But Zakharia had a change of heart about whether he would surrender the license. After he failed to turn in his license, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Borman sentenced Zakharia to 30 dayas in a South Florida halfway house, a year of probation, and a fine of $100,000. Zakharia quickly made plans to surrender the license in order to avoid further sanctions.
The lesson here is two-fold. The first should be obvious: If you’ve sworn an oath to tell the truth – do so. Don’t exaggerate your credentials to make yourself more appealing to a jury.
The second lesson is for the lawyers: You must follow up with your expert witnesses to ensure that they do actually meet the qualifications that they espouse. The plaintiff’s lawyer in this case could simply have requested documentation of Zakharia’s surgeries. The consequences are too great to risk being fooled by a doctor.