Personal Injury Law Blog

Using an Expert Witness in Your Personal Injury Lawsuit

If you are injured in a California accident and decide to pursue compensation from an at-fault party, your attorney may rely on the testimony of expert witnesses to support your case. When a personal injury attorney takes your case, he or she will launch an independent investigation into the accident that caused your injuries.

Part of this investigation will often include contacting and speaking with experts whose opinions and insight may be relevant to your case. Expert witnesses can be invaluable when you are trying to recover compensation from an at-fault party. Their testimony can be used to persuade the opposition to settle or to explain complicated (and important) facts to a jury.

What is an Expert Witness?

What makes a witness an expert? There is no hard-and-fast definition. However, the Federal Rules of Evidence and a Supreme Court decision provide some helpful guidance in determining (a) when an expert is appropriate and (b) what an expert should be able to do.

The Federal Rules of Evidence explain that it would be appropriate for an attorney to present an expert witness when “scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge” would be helpful to “assist the trier of fact [to] understand the evidence or determine a fact at issue in a case.” So, an expert would not really be necessary when an issue of fact is common knowledge or easily understood by a lay person.

Expert testimony would, however, be helpful in explaining information that is not common knowledge. For example, if you sustained a traumatic brain injury after a car accident, an expert witness could provide testimony to (a) explain the seriousness of your injury and (b) how that injury could limit your ability to resume your normal day-to-day activities.

Expert witnesses offer information, facts, and opinions about topics that are not common knowledge. While there is no requirement for an expert to have certain credentials, attorneys must choose their experts wisely. Not only will experts be subject to questioning by the opposing party, but they may be required to demonstrate their expertise in their specific field.

An opposing party who does not believe that a witness is either (a) an expert in his or her field or (b) is required in the case may request a Daubert Challenge. The Daubert Challenge is a hearing where a judge will “make a preliminary assessment of whether the testimony’s underlying reasoning or methodology is scientifically valid and properly can be applied to the facts at issue.” Under Daubert, an expert must be able to review the facts of a case, apply a valid method of analysis, and explain his or her interpretation of the evidence. At Glotzer & Leib, LLP, our experienced personal injury attorneys understand the importance of choosing the best expert witnesses to support our arguments.

Why Are Expert Witnesses Important?

So, expert witnesses testify to offer insight and clarity into issues in a personal injury case that may not be easily understood by a non-expert. Why is this testimony important to a successful personal injury case? Why should your attorney hire an expert (or multiple experts) who may cost thousands of dollars? We’ve highlighted a few of the reasons that we believe expert witnesses may be worth the up-front cost.

  1. Pinpoint the At-Fault Party’s Duty. Many personal injury cases rely on proving that the opposing party (1) had a responsibility to act in a certain way, and (2) failed to act in that way. The “duty” (or responsibility) can be difficult to know without outside assistance in some cases. For example, let’s say you are injured in a car accident by a driver who speeds through a stop sign because they were texting. It is fairly straightforward to say that the opposing party had a duty to drive their car safely while following the laws of the road. If, for example, you are injured by a faulty product, it may be more difficult to determine (1) who had a duty to act in a certain way, and (2) what that specific duty was. Expert witnesses can offer helpful information to help lawyers, clients, judges, and/or juries better understand the case.
  2. Experts Can Offer Opinions. Regular (or “lay”) witnesses are often prohibited from offering their opinions about a case. If you are a witness in a case, you will be limited to offering opinions that “are rationally based” on your perception of the relevant facts and helpful for understanding the case. As a lay witness, you may be able to offer opinions of a non-technical nature based on your own personal knowledge. Expert witnesses, however, have more latitude in offering opinions. Since they are specialists in their fields, experts can offer insight that may be helpful to explain more complicated or nuanced ideas. These opinions can be crucial to help juries understand aspects of a case that are harder to understand.
  3. Opportunity for Unbiased Testimony. Most witnesses have a stake in the outcome of a case. Expert witnesses, on the other hand, are intended to be impartial. Their purpose is to offer unbiased opinions and explanations of relevant information. This impartiality can be incredibly helpful when your attorney offers evidence.
  4. Increase Settlement or Award of Damages. The easier it is to understand the severity and extent of your accident and injuries, the greater your chances of recovering the compensation you deserve. When the opposing party tries to undermine your case, expert testimony can help to reinforce it.

Commonly Used Experts in Personal Injury Cases

Personal injury cases can be complicated. Regardless of whether you were injured in a car accident, slip and fall, or because of a faulty product, expert witnesses can offer insight and clarity about the more detailed nuances of a case. Expert witnesses that are commonly used during a personal injury lawsuit include:

  • Accident recreationists;
  • Property appraisers;
  • Psychologists and psychiatrists;
  • Medical professionals;
  • Forensic evidence specialists;
  • Business valuators;
  • Medical examiners;
  • Vocational specialists;
  • Law enforcement officials;
  • Ballistic experts;
  • DOT regulations specialists; and
  • Toxicologists.

How Attorneys Choose Expert Witnesses

How do attorneys choose expert witnesses to offer testimony in a personal injury case? Each personal injury case is unique. The expert(s) that may be helpful in proving your case will depend on the facts and circumstances of your case. Your attorney will determine which expert witnesses may be helpful by considering and weighing factors such as:

  • The type of personal injuries you sustain;
  • The type of accident that caused your injuries;
  • The parties you encountered after your accident (law enforcement officials, medical professionals, mental health professionals).

Your attorney will then find the best expert for your case by considering and weighing factors such as the expert’s:

  • Educational background;
  • Credentials;
  • Knowledge;
  • Prior professional experience;
  • Current professional experience in the relevant field;
  • Prior expert witness experience; and
  • Reputation.

At Glotzer & Leib, LLP, our experienced personal injury attorneys understand the importance of choosing the best expert witnesses. The testimony and information provided by an expert witness can make or break a case. During our investigation of your accident, we review all information that may be relevant to help us determine which experts will offer the best support for your claim. We always choose experts who are experienced, knowledgeable, and well-respected. Contact our Los Angeles, Anaheim, or Pasadena office today for a free consultation and learn more about how expert witnesses can be helpful in your personal injury claim for damages.

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