Personal injury cases can involve delving into different fields that are often out of the expertise of an attorney or the understanding of the average juror. Injury cases can involve in-depth analysis of machinery, of standard processes or procedures in highly specialized industries, building codes, or medicine.
You can not prove a mistake was made in a surgery without understanding the medicine. You can not understand how a raised lip on a floor surface occurred without an understanding of materials and safety codes. You can not show that a pool was unsafe when someone drowns in it after getting stuck in a drain without explaining how a pool drain works.
This makes the expert one of the most vital parts of any personal injury case, and experts are used in almost every kind of personal case imaginable. But the law involving experts can be complex, and as you can imagine, as both the injured victim and the defendant are seeking to convince the jury, both will often retain experts, leading to an “expert vs. expert” scenario.
Recent Case Shows Importance of Experts
A recent case has reinforced the importance of retaining good experts, with solid opinions based on accepted science. The case involved a man who slipped near an elevator. The substance he fell on emanated from a breakage in the seal of the elevator’s machinery. As you can see, the inner workings of an elevator would be an issue, a topic that experts would need to address.
And in fact, experts did address the liability issues. The elevator owner’s expert testified that that the machinery was inspected just a few days before the fall, and that it was just fine. But the victim’s expert testified that based on drip testing and flow rate analysis, the leak had been going for up to eighteen days, and thus, should have been discovered and fixed by the elevator owner. The expert also based his opinion on the depth of the oil and mentions of the room where the oil leaked from.
The trial court entered a judgment without a trial—a summary judgment—in favor of the elevator owner, based on their evidence that there was no spill, in doing so, the victim argued to the appellate court, the trial court wrongfully ignored the victim’s expert.
Appellate Court Sends Case Back to Trial
The appellate court agreed, finding that the victim’s expert’s testimony conflicted with the elevator owner’s expert’s testimony, thus making it improper to enter the judgment. The appellate court also found that the victim’s expert’s opinion was properly based on facts, as an expert’s opinion must be.
As there was a conflict between the opinion of both side’s experts, the case should have been able to proceed to trial, where a jury could determine which expert to believe.
The case shows why it is so important to have an educated, comprehensive, and well-credentialed expert. Good expert testimony on one side can lead to a judgment being entered in favor of that side, even without a trial and before a jury gets to consider the evidence. A good expert on the other side, can prevent that from happening—aside from the other benefits of having a good expert witness.
The Expert Witness Standard
Experts in slip and fall cases can not just say anything, of course. Their opinion has to meet a specific legal standard—often called the Daubert standard, based on a case by the same name. The Daubert test requires that expert testimony be:
- Based on sufficient facts or data: In other words, the data used by the expert has got to be sufficient to allow the expert to come to their conclusion. Small samples, incomplete data sets, or missing variables in scientific analysis could lead to an expert’s opinion being inadmissible.
- Based on reliable methods or principles: Experts must conduct tests or do analysis based on generally accepted scientific principles. It is OK if the ultimate opinion is not widely accepted, so long as the process or procedure to reach that opinion is sound. A court will look to how other experts in the same field conduct testing or analyze data to see if an expert’s testimony meets this test.
- The Principles Must be Applied to the Facts of the Case: Even if the expert otherwise does everything right in coming to a conclusion, the expert must apply his findings to the facts of the case. For example, if an expert conducts testing to see how far a car takes to stop when it is travelling at 100mph, but the case involves an 18-wheeler truck, the expert has not provided reliable testimony.
Qualifying Someone as an Expert
Of course, before even getting to the Daubert standard, an expert has to be qualified as an expert by the Court. In most cases, this is not a big fight—an expert who is a doctor, or who has significant credentials in his field, will usually be qualified. However, sometimes there can be issues in the field of qualification.
For example, an expert in friction analysis of surfaces who gives testimony in a slip and fall case, may not be a competent expert to testify as to the mechanics of how a human body would fall on that surface. That may take a biomechanics expert. Thus, victim’s attorneys should be certain not just that they have an expert, but that they have all the experts they need to get the evidence to the jury that they want to present.
If you are injured in a slip and fall, make sure that you have attorneys that know how to prepare your case and explain its complexities to judge and jury. Call the injury attorneys of Brill & Rinaldi today for a free consultation to discuss your case.