The Role of Expert Witnesses in Personal Injury Cases

Expert witness swearing on bible telling the truthIn the courtroom setting, an expert witness is a person who possesses specialized knowledge, training, skill, and/or experience related to the case and who testifies based on that knowledge, training, skill, or experience to give the jurors and judge a clearer understanding of factors necessary to reach a verdict. Expert witnesses, in general, help to clarify when complicated technical issues are in dispute.

In personal injury cases, the most common type of expert witness is a medical expert, usually a doctor, who testifies about the nature of the injuries at issue in the case. Simply telling a jury what kind of injury it is may not provide the necessary information for them to determine how much of an award the injured party will need to be made whole. A doctor better understands the implications of a knee meniscus tear, for example, and can reasonably predict what it will take to make the injured person whole again. A doctor can also provide objective proof of the injured person’s pain and suffering. A doctor knows what a painful injury looks like. If the alleged liable person argues that the injury was not even related to the accident, a doctor may have some helpful things to say about the likely causes of the injury.

In extreme cases, those where the injured person is likely to remain injured for life, it could be useful to hire a life care planning expert who can testify about how much a person’s health care will cost for the rest of his or her life.

You may wonder why we would bother with hiring an expert when we could ask your primary care physician to testify on your behalf for much less money, presumably. Your doctor would not make the best witness because the judge or jury might assume he is biased towards you, given his personal relationship with you. The truth is that disinterested experts who do not know you and have no stake in the outcome of the trial are more credible when they testify about injuries.

A mental health expert can testify about whether a car accident caused Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which can have debilitating effects on the injured person for years after the accident. Imagine that your Dodge Dart is hit by a Ford F-150 truck while in traffic and although you survived without serious physical injuries, from that point forward, you are deathly afraid to ride in small vehicles or you panic whenever you see large pickup trucks. This is a mental health ailment worthy of compensation but you are not likely to be able to prove the serious, enduring nature of your disorder, nor how it will affect your income earning ability in the future without the help of a mental health expert like a counselor, a psychologist, or psychiatrist to explain the details to a judge or jurors.

Another common type of expert witness is a forensic accountant. Often, it can get too complicated for a juror or judge to figure out the true financial impact of a person’s injury or wrongful death. Forensic accountants can show how much money the injured party might have earned if not for the injury or death. This will involve actuarial statistics showing how much money similarly situated people earned.

Personal injury attorneys also often use engineers or analysts, sometimes called accident reconstructionists, who use first hand observation, investigation techniques, and software to model traffic accidents based on the gathered evidence. Often witnesses to a traffic accident fail to agree on what actually happened. Which car truly had the green light? Did the locomotive engineer actually blow the horn before colliding with the car on his tracks? Reconstructionists can analyze the evidence, apply scientific principles to it, and give jurors and judges a good idea of what likely transpired and who is likely at fault. It generally requires years of training to be competent in this area.

Another type of useful expert witness is an automotive industry expert who can testify about defects in the manufacturing or failures in the advertisement of a motor vehicle. Related to automotive industry experts are highway safety experts who can intelligently discuss road hazards, helping us to understand how and when these hazards might contribute to accidents.

A human factors expert can help when a driver in an accident does not very well remember what happened. A human factors expert can provide the judge and jurors with scientific evidence of what speed the driver was likely driving, how much reaction time the driver likely had, and what the driver should have perceived given the state of lighting, road conditions, viewing angles, and weather, among other things.

Brill & Rinaldi will not hesitate to retain the services of a qualified expert witness in those cases that entail serious injuries and disputes about complicated or technical issues.