The Use of Expert Witnesses in Personal Injury Cases

Attorneys outside of courthouseIn personal injury cases, expert witnesses routinely play a vital role in the litigation process. An expert witness is someone who is called to testify in court because they have specialized knowledge or experience in a particular field that is of significance in the case. There are distinct types of expert witnesses, but they all serve an important purpose, as they are called to use their education, technical and/or professional knowledge to resolve liability questions and establish or refute medical causation.

For example, a personal injury attorney may hire an accident reconstructionist, who plays a role in analyzing the collision and reconstructing the accident. This type of expert would inspect the scene of the crash and the vehicles involved as well as review any testimony and statements from those involved and then apply scientific methodology to determine how and why the accident occurred.

Expert witness testimony is also used by attorneys in products liability cases, where someone is claiming they were injured by a defective product. This expert would use their knowledge and experience in the engineering field to inspect the product and provide his/her professional opinion on whether or not the product was defectively designed or manufactured, and typically provide an opinion on safer design alternatives.

Medical malpractice suits almost always involve the use of expert witnesses, as the plaintiff has the burden of proof to establish there was a breach of the standard of care. In Alabama, the plaintiff is required to retain a similarly situated medical professional to testify as to whether the defendant was negligent in their care and treatment. This means that if the plaintiff is claiming a nurse made a mistake, then a nursing expert needs to be hired to provide testimony. Further, a physician may also need to be hired to give expert testimony that the nurses breach of the standard of care is what caused the plaintiff’s injury.

In any case where expert testimony would be needed, part of an attorney’s evaluation of the potential case is the cost of the needed expert testimony and the overall cost of prosecuting the case. Most expert witnesses charge an up-front retainer, which can be thousands of dollars and then bill out at a high hourly rate. Thus, in cases where multiple experts may be needed to prove liability and damages, the potential recovery must be large enough to justify the cost of the litigation.

Finally, the selection of the appropriate expert witness for the case is crucial. It’s vitally important to find an expert that has the proper training, background, education and/or experience with the issue at hand. It’s also important to analyze their track record as an expert witness. Have they handled a similar matter, how many times have they been deposed or testified at trial, do they typically testify for the plaintiff or defendant and are they likable, meaning how will they come across to a jury? When searching for expert witnesses, attorneys will often check with other attorneys for suggestions and use reputable services like that can assist attorneys in finding the best expert for their case.