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What is an Expert Witness and How Can They Help Your PI Case?

Fri 29 Jul, 2022 / by / Personal Injury

Many personal injury lawyers retain the services of an expert witness to help build a client’s personal injury case. What exactly an expert witness is–and how he or she can help with a personal injury case–confuses many clients. Read on to understand the role of an expert witness in a personal injury case.

What is an Expert Witness?

Calling an expert witness a “witness” is a bit misleading because an expert witness did not “witness” anything. Regular witnesses (known as eyewitnesses) are called to the stand to describe a scene that the judge or jury did not personally observe. For instance, if there is a car accident and it is disputed how exactly it happened, it can be useful to hear from someone who was a pedestrian or fellow driver and saw the accident. Their testimony about how they saw the accident happen is helpful. But sometimes no eyewitness is available–or a lawyer needs someone who can provide an explanation based not on what they directly witnessed but on one founded in science. Enter the expert witness. 

Types of Expert Witnesses in PI Cases

Depending on the type of case, a wide variety of expert witnesses can be called to testify. Some of the most common expert witnesses in personal injury cases are accident reconstruction specialists, doctors, medical experts, mental health experts, and financial specialists. These experts can help paint a picture for the jury about how an accident happened (which can determine who was at fault), what sort of pain the person went through, and place a dollar value on recovery and/or loss of physical abilities.

Accident Reconstruction Specialists 

These witnesses are able to help the jury understand how an accident happened–particularly if there were no witnesses to the accident or the witnesses were under distress or shock. For instance, suppose a person falls on a staircase and blames faulty construction. The expert witness may be able to show the jury exactly how a person fell. They may be able to show, given how a person became injured, the trajectory of the fall. This could reveal that a person’s fall had nothing to do with the staircase. Absent security cameras or direct testimony, this helps the jury understand how the accident happened, and it can aid them in figuring out who is at fault for the accident.

Doctors/Medical Experts

These experts can testify to what sort of injuries you are suffering from and what the recovery process would be like. This will help convince the jury that the person seeking money is not just in it for the payday but is actually in pain. Additionally, the doctor’s testimony about the procedures and prognosis can help put a dollar amount on non-economic damages.

Mental Health Experts

These experts can testify to the damages that are less easy to see: damage to the mind. Accidents can be mentally as well as physically painful. For instance, they can cause someone to have post-traumatic stress disorder, where they are less able to participate in life’s activities due to anxiety about the accident. This can help when requesting non-economic damages.

Financial Specialists 

Some losses are easy to prove. If you missed two months of work due to an accident and you earn $4,000 per month, you could request $8,000 to be made whole in that area. But what about other losses–such as future losses? For instance, if you are a carpenter and suffered a back injury, how could this impact your future career–even if you are okay to work now? The experts here can show the difference between what you would have earned before the accident and what you stand to earn after the accident.

Benefits of an Expert Witness

Truthful Witness

When jurors are analyzing whether they think the witness is telling the truth or not, one of the things they consider is objectivity. An eyewitness may have a particular motivation to testify. Perhaps they were also involved and are trying to shift the blame. Jurors might also be skeptical about whether an eyewitness saw what they allege they saw since accidents can happen so quickly that it is difficult to describe what happened and when. 

Expert witnesses differ because they are not prejudiced and do not have to rely on what they saw or heard. While an expert witness is paid for by the lawyer–and may have some motivation to testify one way or another–they also testify under oath and have to protect their reputation. Thus, many jurors believe that the expert witness is telling the truth. Additionally, the expert witness is using their training to describe what happened, rather than relying on their memory (which could be clouded or distorted).

Specialized Training

Not just anyone can become an expert witness. The witness has to have the requisite training, skill, or expertise to be permitted to give testimony. Before an expert witness is ever allowed to testify, a summary of the testimony must be submitted. Additionally, the judge will decide whether the person is able to serve as an expert witness. Who will qualify as an expert witness can differ from federal to state court and state to state. Typically, judges will review credentials, experience, and training.

When Do I Need an Expert Witness?

Expert witnesses are an additional cost. In many personal injury cases, an expert witness may be an unnecessary expense. However, there are personal injury cases where an expert witness’ testimony could be crucial, including car accidents and slip and fall cases where it is not entirely clear how the accident happened.  An attorney will let you know whether an expert witness would be beneficial to your case.

How Do I Find a Good Expert Witness?

Do not fret if you are worried about tracking down a good expert witness for your case. Your attorney will have a list of contacts to use for cases. Expert witnesses often testify in numerous cases–in fact, it is their testimony in many cases that makes them more credible to juries. 

Work with a Knowledgeable Personal Injury Attorney

You can help your lawyer select the best expert witness by being entirely truthful about what happened in the accident and providing as much documentation as possible. If you have questions or concerns about how effective an expert witness will be in your case, contact our office today.