Monday, June 29, 2009

Help This Expert: Working with a Disability

I recently received a question from an expert about how to continue an expert witness practice when the expert has a disabling health condition. Here's the email I received:

"A colleague of mine is a self-employed expert witness. He works out of a home office in a fairly rural town, and is occasionally called upon to travel to a client's offices or meet with attorneys. Last winter he suffered a stroke, and now finds that he cannot leave his home without assistance, and some of the tasks associated with his work are much more time consuming than before. This has raised some significant challenges as his recovery progresses, and I suspect other expert witnesses have already navigated these decisions.

At what point should one disclose a handicap to potential clients? Should one bill differently for tasks that take longer than before? How can one minimize having to work outside the home? Should all self-employed people carry long-term disability insurance? What accomodations are reasonable for a handicapped person to expect when he must travel to a deposition? There are many other questions surrounding this issue, but thus far I have more questions than answers."

I suspect some of you have faced this issue already and we should probably all consider what we would do. Please give any words of wisdom or resources you know of to help this expert.


Anonymous said...

video deposition appearances are common, and sometimes cases don't even go that far. I think the expert should advise an attorney as quickly as possible about any handicap, but should gently remind a prospective attorney that video is an option. If the expert is competent, this should not present any barrier to the case.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the previous comment.

Anything which has the potential to impact or limit the expert's actions or activities normally incident to the retention should be disclosed to the prospective client. For example, if the client anticipates that the expert will make a site inspection on a construction project and the expert's mobility is an issue, I believe it's imperative that the limitation be disclosed.

This can be addressed informallly and confidentially in a telephone conversation with the client prior to formalizing the retention.

Steven Butler said...

Having gone through hip replacement surgery recently, I used a video interview process in lieu of an out of town trip. If travel is the only handicap, then that can be worked around at least for awhile. Remember, your being hired for your experience and expertise, not your physical mobility. That being said, I wouldn't hide from the truth and your limitations.

Anonymous said...

Actually it may be a benefit, albeit a hardship to appear personally. Imagine the impression left on the jury when opposing counsel tries to be too aggressive or condescending to a disabled witness who happens to be an expert in his field. Your expertise and demeanor are the key, a good attorney will recognize that immediately and the bonus of the handicap. Zvi Herschman, MD

Anonymous said...

Regarding the question of disability...first, the expert must determine what can and can not be done at home and/or travel if any. The exact limitations must be known, and, if the limitations will ease over time. With that in mind, and based on my very limited and current experience with a total hip replacement, here is my take on the matter assuming the client has already been retained: 1) Definitely inform clients what can and cannot be accomplished and to what extent some, if any, work can be contracted-out or done by another expert; 2. Verify and re-verify all dates, as they may impact the work schedule. 3. Request that depositions be conducted near the home-office, but not in the home office. (I've had NO problems with this issue). 4. The work is accomplished without regard to the disability; therefore, NO fee reduction is warranted. Work is work...but the expert must be up front with the client, and if the client wants to change experts, then so be it. The expert can keep the fees earned and offer to assist the retaining client in the transition and still be a positive resource to the client. For potential clients, clearly indicate the limitation and time constraint if the condition is expected to improve with time. Do not accept work which cannot be completed.

Good luck.

Britt Colbert

Captain Tom Carney said...

I believe that an expert/consultant is hired for his or her Brains. Your brains are the knowledge experience and skill and education you have aquired over a period of time in your area of expertise. Unless your brains have been effected, I don't see where a disability such as physical should be a big deal.
Captain Tom Carney, Marine Cases

Stephen D. Sarfaty, Psy.D. said...

Get a quality neuropsychological examination so you can be completely clear how you have been left and what you can do about it so that you might consider all other questions in an informed, empowered and responsible manner.

Meredith said...

Thank you all - very helpful information! Meredith