IT'S ALL FREE! I Have No Opinion

When I was a new legal nurse consultant and heard experts say, "I have no opinion," I took that statement at face value.  I now know that the statement can mean other things as well.  Let's decode the statement to see what it may REALLY mean.

Of course, sometimes when an expert says, "I have no opinion," that's exactly what it means.  But there are a couple of other reasons that experts make this statement.

One reason is that the expert doesn't have the knowledge to make an informed opinion.  For example, a nurse expert who has labor and delivery expertise may opine about untoward events of a laboring patient.  However, the expert may not have the right skill set to provide an opinion about a newborn's untoward events in a neonatal ICU.  In this situation, when the expert says, I have no opinion," the underlying message is that the expert is deferring to another expert with more knowledge of neonatal conditions. 

Another reason that experts say they have no opinion is because they have an opinion that's unhelpful to another party in the case.  For example, let's say that there are two defendants in the case, one of whom is a pediatrician and one of whom is a pediatric cardiologist.  Both physicians have their own attorneys and own experts.  The pediatric cardiologist's attorney hires an expert who is also a pediatric cardiologist.  The expert provides a positive review to the attorney about his client.  However, the expert tells the attorney that the pediatrician, the other party in the case, may not have met the standard of care.  Even so, the expert doesn't believe that damages occurred because of the pediatrician's negligence.  The pediatric cardiologist's attorney may instruct the expert to narrow the focus of his opinions on the client's actions, not the actions of other parties in the case.  On the witness stand, the expert will state that he has no opinion about the pediatrician's care.  If the opposing attorney presses the expert and asks why he has no opinion, the expert can truthfully state that he limited his review to the actions of the pediatric cardiologist.  The expert could also state that he is a pediatric cardiologist, not a pediatrician.

As a legal nurse consultant, how do you know what the statement, "I have no opinion" really means?  In some cases, you can't.  In other cases, you might be able to read between the lines to determine the true meaning of the statement.

...Katy Jones