Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : July 2005

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Win Your Case with a Legal Nurse Consultant
By Terri Ferguson

Rely on the same people doctors rely on: nurses! A legal nurse consultant can save time and money, thus giving an attorney the time to focus on other issues of a case or to obtain new clients.

Reviewing a medical record can be a complex and confusing task. Legal nurse consultants are experts because they perform this task every day, down to the smallest detail. They have the ability to weed through a medical record and find the issues that are relevant to the case.

What is a legal nurse consultant? Legal nurse consultants (LNC) are experienced Registered Nurses who can assist attorneys by screening, investigating and developing any case in which health, illness or injury is an issue. LNCs use their experience and acquired knowledge and understanding of medical, nursing and health-related issues to help educate the attorney. They know the inner workings of the healthcare system, thus making them knowledgeable about the current standards of care and the various regulations to which healthcare workers and their employers must adhere. LNCs can provide the attorney with reports and visual aids, which will educate the attorney on medical, nursing and health-related issues. These visual aids, in turn, can also be used to instruct a jury on the complex medical issues of the case.

What types of cases can an LNC work on? An LNC is qualified to consult on any case in which health, illness or injury is an issue. These include Medical and Nursing Malpractice, General Negligence, Products Liability, Toxic Tort and Environmental Cases, Workers’ Compensation and Workplace Injury Cases, and Criminal Cases. Evaluation of a claim requires a thorough knowledge of acute care, medical terminology, pharmacology, medical records, diagnostic techniques, surgical procedures and other health-related issues.

What is the difference between a consulting expert and a testifying expert? A consulting expert is not expected to testify but consults with the attorney-client behind the scenes, preps the lawyer and helps the lawyer develop the case. The consultant can review and analyze all aspects of the case. There are no limitations on the scope of consultation. A consultant’s work product is generally not discoverable. It is treated as the attorney’s own work product.

A testifying expert is expected to testify at deposition or trial. The expert’s testimony is limited to areas of personal professional expertise. The expert’s work product is generally discoverable. Testifying experts should be active in the healthcare setting to lend credibility to their opinions. [Note: Prior to hiring an expert, make it clear up front whether you are looking to hire a consultant or a testifying expert.]

What services can an LNC provide for you? A legal nurse can organize, tab and paginate medical records; screen or investigate medical malpractice cases for merit; summarize, translate and interpret the medical records; and identify and recommend potential defendants. A legal nurse can also obtain expert witnesses that will testify for you in deposition or trial. In addition, legal nurse consultants educate attorneys on medical facts and issues, research medical literature, and assist in the preparation of pleadings and discovery.

You already have a paralegal (or a nurse paralegal) in your office, so why hire an LNC? A legal nurse provides medical (consulting experts only) and nursing opinions as the expert on health, illness and injury and on the inner workings of the healthcare system. The legal nurse focuses on the medical aspects of the case, thereby allowing your paralegal/nurse paralegal to focus on the legal aspects. This is a win-win relationship.

You already have a physician expert to review cases, so why hire an LNC? Does the physician assist you with analyzing the nursing issues of the case? Does he or she review all of the ancillary departments’ involvement? A legal nurse will look at all of the details in the medical record and will be more cost-effective. However, utilizing the services of both a Physician and a Legal Nurse will provide you with the best result.

Why should you hire a legal nurse to perform your medical research? Legal nurses are able to weed out any irrelevant information. They are also able to apply the information to the specific case they are working on, thus being more cost-effective. They are able to find authoritative texts, and can assess any visual aids for accuracy.

Terri Ferguson, RN, BSN, CLNC, is the CEO and Owner of ConFer Consulting, a Medical-Legal Consulting Firm.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: July, 2005

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