In addition to running a successful clinical practice, Jorge Perez, MD, has served as an expert witness and strategic consultant in cases of medical malpractice and personal injury for more than 25 years. The Aesthetic Guide (TAG) recently interviewed him to find out more about his experiences in these roles. What he shared was not only interesting, but informative and helpful for all aesthetic practitioners.
TAG: Dr. Perez, what is an expert witness?
Expert witnesses are an essential part of many legal proceedings. At trial, an expert witness can effectively convey and explain matters that are outside the common knowledge of jurors.
TAG: What is the role of an expert witness?
A good expert witness performs an honest and thorough evaluation of the case, including its strengths and potential weaknesses. They must also be able to synthesize the case and articulate their opinions effectively to a jury of lay persons.
TAG: You are a busy practicing plastic surgeon. How did you get involved in expert witness work?
Years ago, I was a principal investigator and lecturer in body contouring and breast surgery. A local attorney learned about my expertise and asked for my help with a big malpractice case. From there it turned into a 25-year, word-of-mouth, side gig
TAG: Why is the selection of an expert witness important?
Litigation can be very costly. The consequences of choosing the wrong expert can be devastating. I remember reading about one case where I believe they chose a less qualified expert, and the jury returned an $8 million verdict against the doctor. The defendant doctor was so distraught that, sadly, he committed suicide.
TAG: When is the best time to bring an expert witness on board?
The earlier in discovery the better. I even review cases before any legal action has been filed. A good expert can help in the overall early analysis of the case. It is also important to have the expert involved before sentinel events, such as important depositions.
TAG: What are the skills required to be an effective expert witness?
Expert witnesses require a different set of skills than simply being a good doctor. A good expert needs to have a scientifically sound, clear thought process, and must be able to communicate well under pressure. It is definitely not for the faint of heart; I have seen strong academic physicians with lengthy CVs collapse in cross examination.
This is because litigation is an adversarial venue. On one side is an injured party seeking compensation, and on the other side is a professional trying to defend their practice and reputation, and there are often large sums at stake.
A smart attorney prepares for cross examination and a good expert prepares for a smart attorney.
TAG: What principles guide you in your work as an expert witness in plastic surgery?
Whether I am retained on behalf of the plaintiff or the defense I am very cognizant that this is a high stakes, emotionally charged, important proceeding for both parties. I maintain a centered ethical compass, guided by science, fairness and common sense.
I will not exaggerate injuries, but I will also not hesitate to criticize substandard care. In fact, I have often advised insurance companies to settle in cases where plaintiffs should be compensated. And I believe they respect my opinion in that regard.
TAG: What do you find most gratifying about working as an expert witness in plastic surgery?
I am always honored by the recognition of my efforts and the gratitude from a relieved and excited party after a successful outcome.
TAG: What do you find most frustrating in your work as an expert witness?
I do not like to see a strong case settle. I tend to be aggressive in my approach, especially when I feel strongly about a case. I like to see them go to conclusion at trial. I guess that is why I’m a surgeon. Although, I also understand why parties make business decisions to settle.
TAG: Aside from your role as an expert witness, you also describe your work as a strategic consultant. Give us an example of what you mean by that.
I once defended a surgeon who had been served with three simultaneous cases, by the same plaintiff attorney. The plaintiffs all knew each other. I discussed the cases with the defense attorney and suggested he move the strongest defense case forward first. He did.
Nothing emboldens an attorney like a victory. Conversely, nothing cuts swagger like a defeat. Even though the demand at trial was in the millions, the jury returned a defense verdict with no payment. Since they were handed such a stunning defeat in the first case, they settled the other two on terms very satisfactory to the defense.
TAG: What other aspects of expert witness work interest you?
I enjoy educating physicians, attorneys and adjusters on selecting, vetting and maximizing the use of experts to properly explain the medical science at issue.
TAG: What advice would you give specifically to new aesthetic physicians, just starting out, with respect to avoiding liability problems?
Treat everyone – patients, family, friends, colleagues – with thorough, compassionate care. Do not make exceptions or cut corners. You would be surprised how many lawsuits stem from so-called “VIPs.”
And document all of the details of your care and treatment.
TAG: What advice would you give specifically to non-traditional physicians entering the practice of aesthetic medicine?
Do not step outside of your competence zone. We are all continually trying new things. That is the beauty of our exciting profession. However, approach new ideas carefully, incrementally and with disclosure.
Jorge A. Perez, MD
Dr. Perez is a board certified plastic surgeon, practicing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. for over 30 years. A graduate and former faculty member of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, N.Y., he is selected regularly among Castle Connolly/U.S. News and World Report’s listing of America’s Top Doctors. Dr. Perez is an author and has been featured as an expert in plastic surgery on worldwide media including ABC, NBC, CBS, Univision, Telemundo and elsewhere. He has lectured and trained thousands of surgeons, in dozens of countries, in multiple languages, in the areas of facial rejuvenation, breast surgery and body contouring. He has served as a consultant to breast implant manufacturers Mentor/Johnson & Johnson and Allergan Medical and has been an FDA principal investigator. He has served as plastic surgeon to a leading NYC Burn Center. Dr. Perez is fluent in Spanish and has been retained as a consultant and medical expert, and provided testimony in matters of plastic surgery, burns, skin and soft tissue injuries, for both plaintiff (adult and child) and defense, for over 25 years. He recently gave a guest lecture entitled How to Get The Most Out Of Your Retained Expert.