I learned a painful lesson which started with an email which was subtly worded: “I have been asked to locate an expert witness to review a case involving a woman who suffered from a sudden air embolism. I am helping the attorney who is handling the case. I would like to discuss retaining a nursing expert witness with expertise in IV therapy. Please supply the CV and fee schedule of the appropriate expert.”
The email was signed by a (name changed) Bill Jones, ABF Consulting Company. I assumed Bill was a legal nurse consultant who was hired to help the attorney.
Step One in the Painful Lesson
I supplied Bill with the CV and fee schedule of one of our top IV therapy experts, (name changed) Jackie. Bill then responded that the attorney had enough experts, but he wanted to consult with Jackie.
Bill contacted our expert and said he was going to be close to where she was living the following day. His email stated, “Do you have 30 minutes to an hour to discuss my wife’s case?” Jackie did not realize we never work directly with plaintiffs, and she made arrangements to meet Bill in the lobby of a hotel.
By the time we found about the meeting, the day before it happened, it was too late to obtain payment from Bill. Our expert had one hour of travel time and a 30 minute meeting with Bill. Bill brought one page of medical records with him.
Although he believed his wife died from an air embolism, he said there was nothing in the records or autopsy that confirmed this. The record stated that it was a pulmonary embolism. He wanted to know if Jackie could supply him with any autopsy reports from air embolism cases that she had reviewed. Bill was not happy when the expert said she could not do this.
At the meeting, Bill supplied his credit card. Jackie wrote down the number and shared it with us after the meeting. The card was declined when we ran the charge through. We advised Bill we needed a different form of payment for the 90 minutes or $337.50.
I sent Bill an email that said, “I understand you are now questioning your bill and that your credit card was declined, I understand you met with Jackie in person, instead of talking with her over the phone, as I expected would happen.
Jackie had travel time to meet with you. Our fee agreement clearly states that we bill all services at the same rate, including travel time. Since you wished to hire her to consult with you, you are expected to pay the fees for her time. We expect to be paid and will fully pursue this payment.”
The painful lesson continued. Bill’s response was, “337.50 is about $4 per minute based on 90 minutes. Are you kidding me? I did not agree to pay her $4 per minute for 60 minutes of drive time. Jackie chose the meeting place and did not tell me I would pay her $4 per minute for driving. Not to mention it’s only 12 miles from her house to the hotel that she choose. I could have easily met her at her house. There was no contract to pay her anything except for the time we met – 30 minutes. This is all I agree to pay. Send me the correct bill.”
Ultimately Bill sent us a check for the 30 minutes.
Painful Lesson Learned
I should have clarified who Bill was, and that would have led to the realization that he was the spouse of the patient who died. Unfortunately, Bill was very crafty in how he worded his email. Had I known he was the husband, I would have explained that we work only with attorneys (or their legal nurse consultants). Instead, we moved onto the next step of supplying Jackie’s CV and fees.
We should have asked the expert to postpone meeting with Bill until we had secured payment.
Our expert quite properly selected a neutral location for the meeting. She would have been foolish to allow a strange man into her home for a meeting, which he initially requested. The travel time was inevitable; in the metropolitan area in which she lives, 12 miles does not mean 12 minutes.
After the meeting, when Bill did not receive the news he wanted to hear, we had no leverage to collect the full fee our expert was entitled to.
Pat Iyer MSN RN LNCC is president of The Pat Iyer Group.