A Doctor in Alabama Can Testify as His Own Expert
Did You Know A Doctor in Alabama Can Testify as His Own Expert?
I was recently preparing for a trial when the plaintiff’s lawyer disclosed that the plaintiff, who is a medical doctor in Alabama, was going to testify as a medical expert on his own behalf. I balked. The judge balked. We didn’t think he could actually do that.
But you know what? He can. That’s right. In Alabama, a doctor can testify as his own expert about anything else any other medical expert could testify to. Causation of injuries. Reasonableness and necessity of treatment and medical expenses. All of it. Even though he’s biased and has a pecuniary interest in the outcome of the case.
Normal Expert Standard for Bias
The normal standard is that a biased expert either can’t testify, or his testimony will be limited, or the jury will be allowed to weigh the merits of his testimony versus his interest in the case. This is important for several reasons.
Expert witnesses are granted “testimonial latitude unavailable to other witnesses on the assumption that the expert’s opinions will have a reliable basis in the knowledge and experience of his discipline.” But not only that, the court and jury rely on expert witnesses to be disinterested parties, who have no motive to fabricate an issue. As such, a special obligation is conferred upon the trial judge to ensure that the testimony of any expert witness “is not only relevant, but reliable.” Where the trial court finds that an expert witness’s testimony will not assist the jury, whether because it is not reliable or comes from an interested party, the trial court may properly exclude the testimony of an expert witness.
State Realty v. Ligon
But a 1929 case that’s never been overturned has carved out an exception. State Realty v. Ligon holds that a medical doctor who is legally licensed to practice medicine is a qualified expert in a bodily injury case and is competent to testify on her own behalf as to her knowledge of facts and matters of opinion, including permanency of an alleged injury.
Other lawyers in the firm didn’t believe me. And rightfully so, because it’s kind of absurd. Three other lawyers did research on this, and all came to the same conclusion – a doctor is permitted to testify as his own expert on his own behalf. Which isn’t the same thing as it being a good idea. Of course, you’re permitted to do lots of things during litigation that aren’t particularly good ideas.
 Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 148 (1999).
 See Wade Clinic of Chiropractic, P.C. v. Rayburn, 812 So.2d 1159, 1162 (Ala. 2000) (“Grim was not a party and had no motive to fabricate an issue. Grim was simply an expert witness; although compensated by the Yarbroughs to testify, he was disinterested.”); see also Tittle v. Alabama Power Co., 570 So.2d 601, 604 (Ala. 1990) (“There is no reason to assume disinterested third parties [e.g., expert witnesses] possess the same motive [as parties with a pecuniary interest].”).
 Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 589 (1993).
 See Holcomb v. Carraway, 945 So.2d 1009, 1020 (Ala. 2006); see also Ala. R. Evid. 702.
 Ligon, 119 So. 672 (Ala. 1929).
Photo by Hamza Butt.