First Time Testifying and the Jury Smiled on Our Case
by Stephanie D. Stanley, RN, CLNC
My most memorable case occurred when I testified for the first time. I had been a Certified Legal Nurse Consultant for about a year. The case was a will contest. The client was the daughter of an elderly woman who had passed away in a skilled nursing facility. About 72 hours prior to her death, the son (the client’s brother) had the will altered so that he would inherit most of the estate. The changes to the will were made by an attorney. The son then took the will to the facility and had his mother sign it with a notary (a friend of his) present and another witness (his sister-in-law). The estate was worth around $1,000,000.
I received a phone call from my attorney. He said, ‘You were fantastic, we won. The jury said your testimony sealed the case in our favor.’
My attorney-client hired me to review the medical records to search for evidence that the deceased was under undue influence when she signed the second will (based on the records and that 72-hour window). I reviewed the records and prepared my report. I found the mother was confused, too weak to hold a pen by herself, under the influence of strong sedating medications and hypoxic.
My attorney-client decided that his case depended on my assessment of the mother and her mental state during the time of the second will signing based on my findings in the medical records. I was called to testify. I was nervous so I rehearsed the night before.
There was a jury present to hear the case. The opposing attorney, of course, tried to tear me apart but I looked at the jury and relayed facts from my report in terms they could understand. He could not trip me up no matter how hard he tried. I testified that when the mother signed the second will, she had low oxygen saturations in the 70s and 80s with use of supplemental oxygen (the patient was a DNR by her choice). The impact of hypoxia on the brain, the effects of large doses of morphine and Ativan IV in regards to sensorium, the fact she had to be fed as she could not hold a fork or spoon and probably not a pen on her own, and the nursing and rehab staff repeatedly charted the patient was confused and disoriented painted a picture of her mental state. I also pointed out the doctor who testified earlier that the client was alert and oriented was not the doctor who had seen her last based on the signatures in the chart. Furthermore no physician had assessed her during the 24 hours prior to her signing the second will. Thus, the testifying physician, although he was the PCP, would not have had first hand knowledge of her mental status at the time in question as did the nursing staff and rehab staff who actually assessed her during the time frame in question.
The final question that the opposing attorney asked was, “How much does Mr. M. pay you for your services?” I answered his question and he then said, snickering with a smug look on his face, “That is a little steep, don’t you think, for a nurse?” I started to reply and he cut me off. I looked up at the judge and asked calmly if I could answer the question. The judge told me to go ahead. I proceeded to tell the attorney that I had 24 years of nursing experience and had taken care of hundreds of dying patients. I explained what a CLNC® consultant does and how I received my training, and I offered to give the opposing attorney my contact information. The jury was smiling at me. I then left the court room.
Later that evening I received a phone call from my attorney. He said, “You were fantastic, we won. The jury said your testimony sealed the case in our favor. By the way, on my way out, I patted Rob (the opposing attorney) on the shoulder and told him that is why I pay your consulting fee. He wasn’t laughing anymore, but fuming mad.” The daughter received her half of the estate as directed in the original will and the court determined the mother was not competent and was under undue influence when she signed the second will thus it was null and void. I have since worked for the opposing attorney.
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