Using Expert Witnesses to Help Your Personal Injury Case

It is often difficult or even impossible to have an intelligent evaluation of the facts in a personal injury case that does not involve the application of some technical, scientific or otherwise specialized knowledge. Just like the victim of a personal injury often needs an experienced attorney to guide them through the process of recourse, oftentimes the judge and/or jury needs someone who is an expert in a complicated area to explain it to them. Enter, the “expert witness.”

In many personal injury cases both the plaintiff and defense sides will use their own expert witnesses to explain relevant topics that the average member of a jury would not adequately understand in what is called “expert testimony.” Additionally, depending on the type of personal injury claim, the law sometimes requires that a plaintiff use an expert witness to testify as to certain elements of their claim.

While expert testimony can be hugely beneficial to either side’s case, there are certain requirements you must first prove to the court in order to certify someone as an expert.

Advantages to Using an Expert Witness
  • Factual Expert Testimony. As mentioned above, the defense will likely be using their own expert witnesses, especially if required by law or in cases involving topics not very well known to the general population. For example, the use of expert witnesses is particularly common in personal injury cases involving:

    1. Engineering

    2. Automobiles

    3. Medical/health field

  • In such cases, even if it is not required for you to use expert testimony, it can be extremely beneficial to do so because you can at a minimum use your own expert to counter the claims made by the opposing party’s expert.

  • Summarization. Fact-based expert testimony is also a powerful tool because of its ability to provide judges and juries with a summary of the relevant information in a case, what the evidence implies, and guidance as to how to interpret it. Expert witnesses can cover lots of ground efficiently and effectively in a complicated personal injury case.

  • Opinion/Inference Expert Testimony. Expert witnesses are allowed to testify as to their professional or specialized opinions if it would help the jury understand the evidence or a fact at issue in the case. Experts are also allowed to make inferences if they are derived from the scientific method. This is significant because the use of opinion testimony by a non-expert witness, or “lay-witness,” is usually much more restricted.

Requirements for Certifying Someone as an Expert Witness

In order to qualify someone as an expert witness in the relevant field so that they can give expert testimony for your side, you must show that:

  1. The potential witness’s technical, scientific or otherwise specialized knowledge will help the jury determine a fact at issue in the case or understand the evidence

  2. The witness’s testimony has a sufficient basis in facts or data

  3. The witness’s testimony is a product of reliable methods and principles, and

  4. The witness has reliably applied those methods and principles to the facts of the case.

Additionally, trial judges are supposed to serve as gatekeepers of sorts, and keep “junk science” out of the courtroom. The trial court looks at four factors to determine whether the technique or theory used by a proposed expert witness is adequately based in science:

  • Whether the technique or theory has been subject to “hypothesis testing.” This type of testing requires that someone made a hypothesis and tested it, and is what distinguishes the scientific method from non-scientific methods.

  • Whether the technique or theory has been subjected to peer publication and review

  • The technique or theory’s potential or known error rate

  • The extent to which the relevant scientific community accepts the technique or theory

Either side can challenge the other’s expert witnesses through one of these mechanisms, or by arguing that the potential testimony involves common knowledge that does not require explanation from an expert.

Extra Requirements for Expert Witnesses

Depending upon your type of personal injury case, you might have additional burdens to certify your witness as an expert.

If you are suing a doctor, for example, not only are you required to use expert testimony to prove certain parts of your case, but there are additional tests a proposed expert must pass in order for their testimony to be admissible. These tests require, amongst other things, that if the defendant-doctor specializes in some particular field of medicine, the expert must be of the same or similar expertise. The proposed expert must also have dedicated the majority of their professional time in the past year to active clinical practice in or teaching of the defendant’s line of work.

Using expert witnesses in a personal injury case, even if it is not required, can be a powerful explanatory and persuasive tool. However, having a skilled and experienced personal injury attorney to find the appropriate experts for your case and get their testimony admitted is important. Contact Arnold & Smith PLLC today for a free consultation with one of our dedicated attorneys who can guide you through your claim.