Mr Richard Scott-Watson, Orthopaedic Expert Witness since 1990, having completed over 22000 reports. As well as his Orthopaedic qualifications, he holds the DDAM (Disability qualification) and CUEW (Expert Witness qualification). We have to opportunity to catch up with Richard, who speaks on how road traffic accidents could be reduced via technology, and why agencies can be bad news for expert witnesses and the legal industry.
What do you do when previous medical reports do not enable you to come to a viable, strong conclusion?
I find this as quite a common problem, especially with initial MedCo reports. Almost all of these reports are not undertaken with the care required, and many are rushed through in only a few minutes. It is unsurprising that they contain little or no useable information. What makes it worse is when the claimant has not been able to check the report, as errors are common. This can lead to a report being disclosed that contains fundamental errors that could seriously affect the case – last time I saw this was two weeks ago. It is quite common.
As you often deal with road traffic accidents (RTA), do you think technology advancements – such as smart motorways, or even driverless cars – will see a reduction of the cases you will see? What do you think the future of RTA will be?
It is strange to how vehicle technology affects injury. We already have airbags, but these do not activate if the car is stationary and if it is hit from the rear (the only direction a whiplash effect occurs). Thus in one of the most common scenarios seen in RTA, the main defence built into the vehicle is designed not to function. This does not bode well for future injury reduction, which could be significantly reduced if technology is used properly.
When we last spoke, you revealed how agencies can affect your work and firms’ responses to expert witnesses; what do you think could be done to reduce this problem?
Agencies buy cases, in volume. Technically this is illegal, but they get round it somehow and so collar the market. The way MedCo was set up made this much worse as shell companies popped up like rabbits, although that has now been stopped. The problem is that the agency will take 50 – 80% of the fee, meaning that the expert, GP or Consultant, is not remunerated correctly for their work. This in turn shortens appointment times and reduces quality, especially in the GP expert market. Although, this is a market the agencies need to be regulated far tighter and a maximum percentage take should be set (I would put it at 20% of all fees).
In what other ways do you think law firms could find appropriate expert witnesses, rather than instructing agencies?
Finding an expert is not difficult. There are various registers, all online as well as some ‘non-agencies’ (MEOL and Think for Two), that collect lawyers and experts and connect them but do not take huge fees. Many solicitors use agencies so that the expert is paid via a contract with the agency. This is wholly unnecessary as a claimant solicitor in a case where liability is admitted can claim the expert’s fee as a disbursement, so there is no need for a delay and no need for the solicitor to be out of pocket.
What could be done to improve MedCo systems?
MedCo was set up with good intentions, badly. The initial report is done too early and without notes, so claimants just go along and say what they want. There is usually little objective evidence to find so they cannot be contradicted and in effect there is no ‘opinion’. Coupled with the very short appointment that many (not all) GP experts use, often with a claimant questionnaire that is just entered into the computer, a system to increase fraud could not have been better designed. The GP expert does not even know that there was an injury, time off work, disability or anything else other than on the say of the claimant. By the time I see them (12 – 18 months after) not only do the initial reports prove wide of the mark (I have only ever seen two that were wholly accurate out of probably 10,000), but the initial claimed level of disability (usually severe for everything) is shown to be completely unsupportable from the records and the actual level of disability that resulted is invariably far less than claimed in the initial report.
Carol Couzens (Secretary)
Tel/fax: 01384 441126