When instructing a dental expert witness, it is imperative to know that they are not only an expert in their field but that they are certified and experienced in writing un-biased expert reports that can assist the Court. All of our expert witnesses reach that high standard.
One of our panel, Dr Alex Michael BDS, MFDS, Dip.MFGDP, MCGDent, DLM, CUBS, sat down with us to talk about his role as an expert witness, his fascination with legal ethics, and why a little self-doubt is an essential quality for a good expert witness.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Can we start off by asking what encouraged you to become an expert witness?
I was inspired by a lecturer when I was in my third or fourth year of Dental School. He taught law and ethics and I remember feeling passionate about patients being able to understand the options they have and that dentists need to provide the right treatment for the patient, rather than the one that will bring in the most revenue.
When did you decide to apply to be an expert witness?
Quite a while. After 10 years PQE I met a retired kidney consultant who had completed an LLM at Cardiff and he got me thinking about applying to be an expert witness. However, it took me another nine years to feel I was experienced enough to do the job. Finally, my wife said either to fill in the application for or accept that it was something I would never do. So I did and then in 2019, I was accepted onto the Masters of Law Degree (LLM) – Legal Aspects of Medical Practice (Cardiff University) in 2019 and am now completing my final dissertation.
With all that, a busy practice, and three children, you must be phenomenally organised. What is the most common mistake you see dentists making when you are examining evidence?
When it comes to negligence claims, the most common mistake I see is practitioners failing to compile adequate case notes on a patient and not communicating fully. People are now far more educated and have a wealth of information available to them via the internet. When I was I dental school we were told “It’s not if you will be sued in your career but how many times”. Fast forward 20 years and dental negligence claims are rising every year. I am a member of Dental Protection, and their statistics tell the same story – as do the indemnity fees practitioners have to pay.
What do you think makes a good dental expert witness?
Humility goes a long way. Whilst it is important to be confident and decisive, I had been practising for two decades before I felt my expertise was sufficient that I could act as an unbiased expert witness. Education is also vital – understanding how to write a Breach and Causation Report, Condition and prognosis Report, and Apportionment Report to a standard that is Court Compliant is a skill which must be learned. There are several courses that anyone considering being an expert witness should complete. Certification means the Court or General Dental Council can trust that your report is unbiased and well-researched.
Finally, do you have any advice for dental professionals about avoiding claims?
I think dental practitioners need to remember that the standard of proof in a civil case is based on the ‘balance of probabilities. That means the Claimant, or in the case of a regulatory investigation, the GDC only have to reach a threshold of 51% to win. This can result in your career and reputation being destroyed. My number one piece of advice is to record everything accurately and always explain the options to your patients and obtain valid consent.
Dr Michael is an experienced dentist and practice owner, working continuously in general practice since 2002. Alexander is experienced in all aspects of restorative dentistry including restoration of dental implants. He has considerable experience of cosmetic dentistry, gum disease treatment and oral surgery.
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