The Role of Expert Witness Testimony in Personal Injury Cases

The Role of Expert Witness Testimony in Personal Injury Cases

Expert witnesses play a pivotal role in personal injury cases that go to trial. They provide jury members with specialized knowledge regarding details that are relevant to a case, such as how the impact of a car accident exacerbated a pre-existing condition or how a surgical error resulted in lifelong medical costs. Expert testimony can be the reason why a case is either successful or unsuccessful.

If you were injured in an accident someone else caused, you need a lawyer who will represent you and expert witnesses whose testimony will support your claims. Thanks to our wealth of resources, we’re able to partner with experts who provide valuable insight that strengthens cases like yours. That’s why Esquire Law is the name Arizona and Utah residents trust to fight for their rights and secure maximum compensation.

Understanding Expert Witness Testimony in Personal Injury Cases

Expert witnesses are people who provide reliable and unbiased insight surrounding a personal injury case that’s based on their professional experience and expertise. Typically, the legal representative of each party hires one or more expert witnesses to strengthen their client’s claims. Expert testimony helps the judge and jury assigned to the case understand what happened and determine who is at fault.

Types of Expert Witnesses in Personal Injury Cases

Forensic Experts

A forensic expert weighs in on scientific evidence presented during a trial, helping the judge and jury understand its implications in the case. For example, a forensic expert might show how the alcohol content in a drunk driver’s blood, breath, or urine impaired their decision-making abilities, which caused them to collide with another driver.

Medical Experts

A medical expert can speak to the severity of a victim’s injuries, what care has been provided, what future care will be needed, and how these factors affect their livelihood. Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals are considered to be medical experts in personal injury cases.

Accident Reconstruction Experts

Recreating an accident helps the judge and jury understand what caused the accident and how the events occurred. An accident reconstructionist uses models and computer programs to recreate the accident, explaining how factors such as speed, direction of travel, and the force of the impact caused certain injuries and property damage.

Economic Experts

The impact of an accident can have long-term—and even lifelong—financial effects on both parties involved. An economic expert helps others understand the fiscal impact of a party’s losses, which can include medical bills, car repairs, emotional trauma, and more.

The Role of Expert Witnesses in Personal Injury Litigation

Establishing Liability

Expert testimony helps establish liability, which is required to assign fault and award damages in a personal injury case. Four elements must exist to establish liability:

  • Duty: The defendant owes the plaintiff a duty of care.
  • Breach of duty: The defendant violates their duty of care.
  • Causation: This violation resulted in the plaintiff’s losses.
  • Damage: The plaintiff’s losses caused them some form of identifiable harm, whether physical, psychological, or financial.

Providing Specialized Knowledge

Personal injury cases often involve complex information that the average jury member wouldn’t understand without the help of external resources. For example, a jury member might not fully understand how a driver’s blood-alcohol content impairs their judgment. A medical expert would be the expert witness in this scenario, explaining relevant scientific research that will help the jury make informed decisions.

Testifying on Causation and Damages 

As mentioned above, causation and damages are two key elements that help establish negligence in a personal injury case, which is required to assign fault. These elements tie the defendant’s negligent, reckless, or intentional actions directly to the plaintiff’s losses. The information expert witnesses provide helps jury members:

  • Determine fault
  • Calculate past, present, and future financial losses
  • Award compensatory damages

The Importance of Expert Witness Selection and Preparation

Selecting the Right Expert Witness

Choosing the right expert witness can be just as important as choosing the right personal injury attorney. They can be the difference between a successful case and an unsuccessful one. The witness you and your attorney select should:

  • Have relevant qualifications, including specialized education and certifications
  • Have substantial experience in their field
  • Have a solid professional reputation
  • Communicate clearly and thoroughly

It also helps if an expert witness has testified in previous cases.

Expert Witness Reports

The plaintiff and the defendant in a personal injury case must provide the names of their respective expert witnesses along with a written report of their testimonies before trial. The reports must be written and signed by the witnesses. The report should contain the information each witness will present in court and explain their reasoning behind certain opinions.

Preparing an Expert Witness for Testimony

Just like your lawyer will prepare you for trial, they will also prepare any expert witnesses to take the stand. Preparation typically involves conducting mock examinations to help witnesses refine their arguments, communicate more clearly, and identify and fix flaws in their testimony. This process helps witnesses feel more confident in their arguments and increases the chances of their testimony being viewed as relevant and credible.

Challenges and Admissibility of Expert Witness Testimony

Daubert Standard

The U.S. Supreme Court set a standard for the admissibility of expert testimony in the 1993 Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. case. This standard—known as the Daubert standard—helps judges in civil cases determine the validity of an expert witness’s methods and testimony. The Daubert standard prevents irrelevant or unreliable information that could confuse or sway jury members from being presented as evidence during a trial.

The methods must be based on valid reasoning and applied correctly to the facts of a particular case. A judge must consider five factors under this standard:

  1. Whether the method in question can be and has been tested
  2. Whether the method has been subjected to peer review and publication
  3. The method’s known or potential error rate
  4. The existence and maintenance of standards controlling the method’s operation
  5. Whether the method has attracted widespread acceptance within a relevant scientific community

The judge of a particular trial is the one who applies the Daubert standard to determine the validity of a witness’s testimony. If an expert witness’s methods don’t meet the Daubert standard or the judge applies the standard incorrectly, the testimony may be excluded from trial.

Cross-Examination of Expert Witnesses

Like any other witnesses testifying in a civil trial, expert witnesses undergo what’s called cross-examination. Cross-examination is the interrogation of a witness by the opposing counsel. In other words, the defendant’s attorney cross-examines the plaintiff’s witness and vice versa.

The purpose of cross-examination is to challenge a witness’s findings and credibility by exposing any biases, limitations, or weaknesses in their methods. Attorneys should prepare to cross-examine the opposing party’s witness, and witnesses should prepare to defend their findings. This is why finding an experienced expert witness who will confidently present their findings is so important for the success of your case.

Gatekeeping Function of the Court

Under the Daubert standard, the judge overseeing a civil trial acts as the gatekeeper of witness testimony. They are the ones who review witness reports and determine the validity of the methods that were used and the findings being presented.

Judges also apply the Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE) to determine what evidence is and is not admissible, or accepted. A judge can dismiss evidence if they believe it would do more harm than good if it were to be presented during trial. Evidence that could be excluded includes that which:

  • Creates an unfair bias among jury members
  • Confuses the issue at hand
  • Misleads jury members
  • Causes undue delay or wastes time
  • Unnecessarily presents repetitive evidence

The Name You Know, the Results You Trust

Don’t wait to claim the compensation you deserve. Contact Esquire Law today to get started with a free case evaluation—the first step to achieving the outcome you want. One of our skilled personal injury lawyers will speak with you in person or over the phone to discuss your case, answer questions, and make an action plan. Remember, we work on a contingency fee basis, so you don’t have to worry about payments until we win your case.

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