In 1985, only three years after graduating dental school, I received the one piece of news every dentist fears. I was being sued. It was not only nerve-wracking, but also felt personal because I was being sued by the parent of a dental assistant that worked for a local orthodontist I referred to. Initially, I was angry. But soon after, that anger turned into stress and fear of feeling disgraced and embarrassed in my own community.
Lawsuits are stressful for any professional, but like most dentists, this wasn’t just part of owning my practice and doing business. I worked hard to provide high quality care to my patients and therefore, it’s personal.
For months, the lawsuit gave me such anxiety that I changed the way I practiced, reducing any other chances of lawsuits. It truly impacted my mental health and it was only years later that I realized I was not alone – many dentists share these same feelings.
After many months of anguishing, my attorney and I were scheduled for mediation. Little did I realize that on that day, my life would forever be changed – and FOR THE BETTER!
So many times in life we are faced with situations that initially feel hopeless, yet often reveal new opportunities as we work through them. My situation was no different. I’d never heard the Parable of The Chinese Farmer, but I share it with you now as it is relevant to my story:
There was a time in Ancient China when a man’s worth was dictated by the number of horses he owned. The Chinese Farmer owned but one horse. When the Villagers heard about the Farmer’s horse running off they cried for him, pitied him; but the Chinese Farmer said “ is it a good thing, or a bad thing?”
Sure enough, the horse returned 2 months later…leading an entire herd of horses home to the Farmer.
The Chinese Farmer had one son. That son began to train the newly acquired horses to increase their value. As fate would have it, the son was thrown from a horse and broke his arm and leg. Again the villagers cried and pitied the Farmer knowing he had but only one Son. The Farmer asked “is it a good thing, or a bad thing?”
The Chinese Army marched into the village two days later and conscripted all the able bodied young men for military service. With the Son’s broken limbs, he was not taken with the others.
I tell you that parable because the meditation I was dreading turned out to be one of the best days of my life. My attorney that day was Dr. Vernon Krueger DDS/JD, and after spending eight hours together working in mediation, we formed a bond. Our friendship changed my professional life for the next 30 years.
I received a call from Dr. Krueger a few months later asking me if I would like to be an expert witness. Now…I’d like to tell you it was because of my winning personality…but in truth it’s because our previous case involved Sargenti Root Canal Filling material, and the new case he had was a Federal Case involving the same material.
I had many questions about becoming an expert witness.
- What does an expert witness do?
- What does an expert witness get paid?
- How much time will it take away from my practice?
- How does it really work and… what’s in it for me??
I took the leap and worked with Dr. Krueger on the case and for the next 30 years, my career as a Dental Expert Witness exploded. I worked with Dr. Krueger on several more cases and we developed a wonderful professional relationship. In civil cases, other lawyers would reach out to Dr. Krueger and he would refer them to me. Soon I was working with some of the BEST Malpractice Firms in Dallas and Fort Worth.
Eventually, I was contacted by the Regional Manager for the largest dental malpractice carrier in Texas and surrounding states. Despite having in-house counsel available, the Regional Manager wanted me to simply review cases and give him my professional opinion. No expert letters, no depositions, no trial attendance…just my opinion. For the next three years, the Regional Manager would send me dental records to review and compensate me for my thoughts on the case. It basically came down to:
- Is this case defensible?
- If not, what is it worth to settle it (meaning the damages)?
- And finally, in the worst-case scenario, do we throw ourselves on our own swords and pay, whatever the price?
Soon after, I started reviewing and defending State Board complaints, primarily in the State of Texas. However, because I had friends in other states, when they received a board complaint, they insisted that their malpractice carrier hire me as a consultant. In one instance, I was flown to Michigan to defend a well-known dentist in front of the Assistant State Attorney General.
After 30+ years, I’ve gained an incredible amount of knowledge about our legal system, our risks as practitioners, and above all, how to make being a Dentist and Expert Witness a lucrative side gig. I’ve also realized there are no education or training resources available to teach dentists the craft. A Dental Expert’s ability to explain to a judge or jury the intricacies of a case is often the difference between Guilty or Not Guilty.
Bottom line – being an expert witness isn’t for every dentist, but it can be an amazing opportunity for those that are interested in both the legal aspect and the passive income that can be earned. For me, it’s been an amazing opportunity and one I think should be shared professionally, especially as our culture is rapidly evolving and the chances of being sued are becoming more prevalent with time.
As there isn’t any real “training” on how to get started, Dr. Krueger and I collaborated to develop Dental Expert Witness Training – a 2-day workshop for dentists who want to learn more about what it is, how it works, and what’s in it for them! This workshop is beneficial for dentists who want to learn more about the legal process and hear from dentists who work with legal cases. It also provides hands-on experience for training dentists to become an expert witness.
Here’s an overview:
Phase 1 of the workshop is lecture/didactic format, with attendees given challenging records to evaluate from previous trials.
Phase 2 of the workshop focuses on utilizing a mock witness stand with Dr. Krueger reviewing testimony from the cases.
Finally, as a class, we review what worked and what didn’t work in the defense.
For the wrap-up, we’ve built-in time for a real Texas BBQ on my ranch…where you’ll enjoy great food and time to network and build relationships with other dentists.