From Work Injury to Expert Opinion: Unveiling the Role of Expert Witnesses in NJ Workers' Comp

An “Expert Witness” is an individual who possesses specialized knowledge or expertise in a particular field, often called upon to provide objective insight and professional opinions on specific matters in legal cases. Within the realm of New Jersey workers’ comp, this role is predominantly taken up by physicians. These medical professionals assess and testify on medical aspects of a case, such as the permanency of an injury or the necessity of a medical procedure.

Expert Witness tools of the trade for explaining medical issues such as permanent partial disability from a work accident

Imagine this scenario: Dr. Jones, an orthopedic surgeon with 20 years of experience, is approached by the legal team of an injured warehouse worker, Mike. Mike’s employer and the insurance carrier for the employer challenge the need for a particular surgery following a work-related accident. Dr. Jones examines Mike, reviews his medical records, and later testifies in court. He presents his medical opinion, stating that the surgery is indeed necessary and would aid in Mike’s recovery.


Role of the Expert Witness: Expert witnesses, especially physicians in workers’ compensation cases, play a pivotal role in providing clarity on medical matters. Their testimonies can greatly influence the direction and outcome of a case. Their main objective is to provide unbiased, professional medical opinions to assist the court in making informed decisions.


Selection Criteria: It’s crucial for the hiring party, whether it’s the injured worker or the employer, to select an expert witness with the right credentials, experience, and expertise relevant to the specific medical issues at hand. This ensures that the testimony given holds weight and credibility in court.


Types of Opinions: In workers’ compensation cases, medical expert witnesses might be called upon to:

  • Determine the degree of permanent disability or impairment resulting from a workplace injury.


  • Assess the reasonableness and necessity of proposed medical treatments or procedures.


  • Offer insights into future medical care and its associated costs.


  • Evaluate the connection between the injury and the workplace incident.


Challenges and Counter-opinions: With each party potentially hiring their own expert witnesses, contrasting medical opinions may surface. The Judge of Compensation must then evaluate these perspectives and arrive at a final judgment if the parties are otherwise unable to negotiate a fair resolution of the issue.


Compensation and Fees: Physician fees in workers’ compensation cases, including the charges for drafting comprehensive reports on permanent injuries, are governed by statutory law. Often, the injured employee’s attorney fronts the payment for this report. Upon the case’s conclusion, either through a negotiated settlement or trial, the attorney seeks reimbursement for these costs. This structure ensures that financial considerations do not impede the gathering of expert medical opinions, which is vital for a just resolution.

"The testimony relating to this footing of the case has been profuse and illuminating. The experts, as too often happens, disagree leaving the problem, as Tennyson might say, dark with excessive brightness. International Pulverizing Corp. v. Kidwell, 7 N.J. Super., 345, 354 (1950)."

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