How to Use Medical Narratives During a Personal Injury Trial

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As a law firm focused on serious injury trials, we have seen medical narratives used (and abused) on a number of occasions.

Years ago, the Georgia legislature passed OCGA S 24-3-18(a). This statute was intended to accomplish a few things. First, the statute allows a medical care provider to present his or her opinions in written, narrative form rather than appearing live as a witness during the trial or car or truck wreck case. The thought is that physicians, surgeons, etc. should be able to author a report containing their findings and opinions and have the lawyers read such reports to the jury. Thus, instead of spending a day in court, their opinions are read via the report.

The statute provides that: Upon the trial of any civil case involving injury or disease, any medical report in narrative form which has been signed and dated by an examining or treating licensed medical doctor … shall be admissible and received in evidence insofar as it purports to represent the history, examination, diagnosis, treatment, prognosis, or interpretation of tests or examinations, including the basis therefor, by the person signing the report, the same as if that person were present at trial and testifying as a witness; provided, however, that such report and notice of intention to introduce such report must first be provided to the adverse party at least 60 days prior to trial. A statement of the qualifications of the person signing the report may be included as part of the basis for providing the information contained therein, and the opinion of the person signing the report with regard to the etiology of the injury or disease may be included as part of the diagnosis. Ambling Management Co. v. Purdy, 283 Ga. App. 21, 27 (2006).

As the above makes clear, there are various safeguards built into the system. The plaintiff or the defendant can make use of this statute; however, the party seeking to introduce a narrative must give the opposing side at least 60 days notice (before trial), which includes a copy of the report. The notice provision, among other things, allows the opposing attorney to take the deposition of the medical care provider whose narrative is to be used. Unfortunately, we have seen many defense attorneys try to pull various medical records out of context and then introduce them as narratives. The statute was not intended to allow the jury to hear one record, among many, and then be mislead into thinking the solitary office visit, etc. is indicative of the patient’s entire course of treatment; rather, in my opinion, the statute was intended to allow a provider to create a report which makes clear his or her opinion about the history, treatment, and prognosis of the condition at issue.

Narratives, if used correctly, can be powerful tools; however, in many cases, the jury will want to hear live testimony from important treating physicians. The injury lawyer trying a serious injury case must make a decision about when, and if, to use a narrative.

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