Whenever an attorney is litigating a case involving personal injuries, the case almost always needs a medical expert’s assistance. These cases include medical malpractice, product liability, or workers’ compensation claims, among others. Medical professionals are uniquely qualified to opine given their scientific expertise and specialized training.
Before trial, medical experts can provide invaluable assistance by reviewing records, conducting examinations, and issuing reports concerning the injuries. There are as many different types of medical experts as there are medical specialties. In particular, legal nurse consultants offer specific benefits to a case. A legal nurse consultant is a licensed nurse who has experience with the legal system. This type of consultant can render informed opinions regarding a patient’s injuries and the provided nursing and healthcare services.
If you are an attorney seeking the services of a nurse for your case, there are factors to consider.
What are the Appropriate Credentials?
So what does it take to become a legal nurse consultant? First, an LNC must be a licensed nurse. There are different types of practicing nurses, each with different specialties and educational requirements. These include a licensed practical nurse (LPN), a registered nurse (RN), or a nurse practitioner (NP). An LPN usually completes a year of nursing education and receives a certificate. In practice, registered nurses or other medical professionals typically supervise the LPN. In contrast, a registered nurse has either an Associate Degree in Nursing or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. RNs are the most common type of nursing professionals and practice in many different fields. Once an individual obtains a nursing degree, prospective registered nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN exam). This is a nationwide examination required for nursing licensure in the United States and Canada.
After obtaining certification as a registered nurse, one can pursue advanced degrees to become a nurse practitioner. Advanced degrees include a master’s or doctorate in nursing practice. Nurse practitioners concentrate in a specific practice area and need to pass an exam in their elected field of practice. They typically engage in many of the same duties and responsibilities of a physician. Nurse practitioners can diagnose illnesses and draft treatment plans for patients. Some states offer nurse practitioners full practice authority. This grants them the ability to practice medicine without the supervision of a physician.
Beyond obtaining the requisite degrees and licensures, legal nurse consultants do not need prior legal training. However, there are different courses that nurses can take to further their legal knowledge. For example, the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC), a non-profit organization, offers its own board certification examination to legal nurse consultants. The examination functions as an additional (though not mandatory) credential.
What Can a Legal Nurse Consultant Do?
There are a number of ways a legal nurse consultant can help during the course of litigation. Prior to filing a lawsuit, an LNC can participate in interviews with potential clients. Additionally, they can analyze medical records to determine the viability of the client’s claims. An LNC can attend the medical examinations of the client and conduct necessary medical research on particular issues. They can evaluate all of the evidence to form an opinion as to causation and damages. Their opinion can help develop the overall case theory and strategy. At trial, a legal nurse consultant can offer these opinions during their testimony as an expert witness. An LNC can also explain the particular facts at issue to the jury. This way, the LNC can break down all pertinent medical concepts. Thus, the jury can clearly understand the medical concepts.
An Understanding of the Legal System
The greatest asset a legal nurse consultant offers is that they are familiar with the legal system. A legal nurse consultant can navigate the different stages of litigation seamlessly. The medical and legal worlds operate in separate and distinct realms. A medical professional is an expert in their field. However, that does not always equate to expert witness competence. A large part of an LNC’s job consists of evidence gathering and review (whether it be medical records or physical examinations). They should be well-versed in recognizing how a patient’s injuries translate to a case’s merits, strategies, or outcome.
For medical malpractice cases, one main issue is whether the defendant physician deviated from the requisite standard of care. Interestingly, there is no medical definition for what constitutes a physician’s standard of care. The legal definition dates back centuries. Namely, a physician must “be held to employ a reasonable amount of skill and care.” An LNC with experience working in that physician’s practice area should be able to evaluate the evidence. After evaluating the evidence, they can determine whether the physician acted unreasonably and if the case would warrant civil liability.
Likewise, a case often hinges on the issue of causation. Causation in the legal context has its own definition. It becomes further compounded when there are several injuries, defendants, and other potential intervening causes. An experienced LNC can recognize all of these moving parts when determining whether a defendant proximately caused a plaintiff’s injuries.
That being said, a legal nurse consultant’s knowledge of the law should never substitute their medical experience. Nurses gain invaluable, practical experience in their day-to-day work. Through their daily work, they maintain the specialized knowledge required of expert witnesses. Like any medical expert, a legal nurse consultant should possess a sufficient amount of experience to warrant their expertise. What constitutes sufficient experience is largely dependent on the field. As a general rule, an LNC should have a number of years in the profession. An LNC should also have a resume that showcases the scope of their career.
A legal nurse consultant’s background in actual nursing practice is also important for witness credibility purposes. Juries notice if an expert witness is a “hired gun” who makes a living solely from offering their testimony. Rather, an active and practicing registered nurse or nurse practitioner helps bolster the credibility and trustworthiness of their testimony. Their professional experience reminds the jury they are, first and foremost, a medical professional.
Now more than ever, we are seeing that nurses are the backbone of our healthcare industry. They possess a scope of knowledge and experience that many medical professionals might not have. A legal nurse consultant can be a strong asset to any case requiring medical expertise.
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