What are expert witnesses, and how can they help your case?
Though a vast majority of personal injury cases are settled out of court, a handful end up in court. When this happens, expert witnesses may be called upon to testify to a judge or jurors about evidence that requires a complex or specialized understanding.
Typically, expert witnesses are hired by both sides and each may have a different opinion about the provided evidence. What’s more, personal injury attorneys looking to call on expert witnesses usually must name them early in advance of the trial date, and they must qualify as “experts” in court.
In Florida, expert witnesses can have a significant impact on personal injury lawsuits.
In the past, the state did away with a stringent standard that was deemed unconstitutional by placing judges in the role of a scientist, violating the separation of powers as required under the Constitution. This old standard, also known as the Daubert Standard for expert witnesses, gave the judge the power to determine whether a witness sufficiently had the knowledge, skill, experience, education, or training to be considered an expert witness.
The Frye Standard is the new standard that sets a lower threshold for the expert witness. This standard dictates that an opinion offered by an expert need only show that the technique is considered widely acceptable and reliable in the relevant scientific community. This means that these witnesses are extremely helpful in proving the breach of the applicable duty of care, the extent, and the amount of damages.
What are expert witnesses?
If you are involved in a car accident, for example, the people in the immediate vicinity who saw the crash happen are referred to as “lay” witnesses and are different from expert witnesses.
Expert witnesses are professionals who did not see the accident or injury occur, but are called to offer an independent opinion on the subject based on his/her professional expertise, education, experience, or knowledge. This can be provided in written form and or in person at trial. The opinions of expert witnesses must be based on the facts of the case, usually the technical aspects of it.
For example, in most crashes involving cars, trucks, or pedestrians, examples of expert witnesses that might be called upon include healthcare providers such as doctors and other medical specialists, as well as vocational rehabilitation experts or accident reconstruction professionals.
Expert witnesses can help a judge or jury understand how the accident happened, when it occurred, and what damage was sustained—among other important details. They might accomplish this by developing models to present in court.
The rules concerning expert witness opinions—which apply to both civil and criminal cases—can be found in the Florida Evidence Code, which says:
90.702 Testimony by experts.—If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact in understanding the evidence or in determining a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify about it in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if:
(1) The testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data;
(2) The testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
(3) The witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.
Types (examples) of expert witnesses
There are so many types of expert witnesses available. In your personal injury lawsuit, the type of accident and injury involved will determine the kind of expert called.
Here are a few examples of individuals who are commonly called upon to be expert witnesses in personal injury cases:
- First responders. Testimony from firefighters, EMTs (paramedics) or police officers is often used to reconstruct the accident and match it with the sustained injuries. Their opinion is often derived from their knowledge, training and skills, as well as their experience from similar accidents.
- Economists. If you are entitled to lost wages after an injury but you had an irregular work schedule or fluctuating wages, an economist may be called in to help determine your lost wages and damages, including any future lost wages.
- Vocational rehabilitation experts. These individuals are usually called on as expert witnesses in cases involving loss of earning capacity or inability to retain the job (or any other source of income) in the future as a result of injuries sustained.
- Accident reconstruction experts. These professionals can help shed some light on how the accident happened and who was to blame. These experts are trained, experienced, and knowledgeable in giving an opinion based on a scientific perspective. For example, they can calculate the vehicle speeds, directions, locations, and momentums and stopping distances based on the evidence available.
- Healthcare providers. Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals may be called upon to shed light on your injuries regarding the cause, nature, and their extent after an accident. They can also testify about any permanent injuries or other damages sustained as a direct and proximate result of the accident. Their opinion can help prove whether pre-existing symptoms may have been worsened by the accident.
- Phone records specialists. Cell phone records may be needed to prove that a driver was using their cell phone when the accident occurred. In such a case, a phone record specialist can be called to present evidence by providing a detailed look at the defendant’s phone records, which can be matched with the accident timeline.
There are many types of expert witnesses that can be used to support your injury case. Other examples include medical examiners, truck experts, life care planners, forensic toxicologists, neurologists, orthopedic specialists, pain management specialists and sports injury specialists.
Why expert witnesses are important to your case
Expert witnesses can provide crucial information at any stage of a personal injury case, including before trial during depositions. In some medical malpractice and product liability cases, they are called upon to expound on industry standards to prove duty of care, and to show that the defendant fell below such standards breaching the same.
Although expert witnesses may be costly to hire, the expertise they can provide is an invaluable benefit to some cases. They can often allow plaintiff’s attorneys to negotiate from a stronger position and deliver more favorable settlements and outcomes.