If you have a personal injury claim, it may be necessary for an expert witness to provide testimony concerning the cause of the accident or extent of your injuries. Since expert testimony is subject to complex laws, case decisions, and rules of evidence, a decision about using experts should be made in consultation with your personal injury attorney.
What Is an Expert Witness?
An expert witness in a personal injury case is a person who was not involved in the accident but provides evidence relating to the case. An expert’s education, training, background, and expertise qualifies them to testify about what caused an accident (which relates to liability) or the extent of the victim’s injuries (which relates to damages).
Experts may provide testimony in a case, or they act as consultants to advise a party’s attorneys without providing actual testimony. Both sides of a personal injury case can use experts as witnesses or consultants. The trial court has discretion over permitting experts to testify in court.
An expert is not permitted to testify about legal conclusions in a personal injury case. Expert evidence must relate to facts in the case about the accident itself or the nature and extent of the injuries.
Experts are not used in every personal injury case. The decision whether to use expert testimony or advice is made by the attorney representing the plaintiff or defendant.
Types of Experts
There are many different types of expert witnesses that may be used in a personal injury case. One common type of expert is a medical professional, such as a doctor, who provides evidence about the victim’s injury, treatment, and prognosis. Mental health experts sometimes provide evidence concerning the emotional impact of an accident on the victim. If medical or mental health experts are used, they provide evidence that adds to records and testimony of medical and mental health professionals who treated the victim, who testify as witnesses rather than experts.
Accident reconstruction experts have scientific and technology background that enables them to evaluate the conditions, events, and cause of an accident. Reconstruction experts are not always necessary but can be helpful to determine causation in complex accident cases, such as multiple vehicle accidents.
In some cases, financial or vocational experts provide evidence concerning the monetary impact of injuries on the victim’s ability to work and earn income in the future. This type of expert testimony can be helpful in establishing the economic damages relating to the victim’s future earning capacity.
A relatively recent development is using expert witnesses on phone records. If a car accident case involves possible distracted driving, like texting or talking on a cellphone, a phone record specialist may be used to demonstrate that a driver was using their cell phone at the time of the accident.
Considerations in Using Experts
Several considerations affect your attorney’s decision about whether to use experts in a specific case. One important element is the fact that expert testimony is subject to complex statutory provisions, rules established in previous court decisions, and rules of evidence. Your lawyer evaluates the implications of those limitations in conjunction with whether an expert can help establish the necessary elements of a personal injury case.
A major factor often is the cost of using an expert, because using an expert is expensive. Experts charge not only for their actual testimony, but also for the time required for them to analyze the case and arrive at conclusions. As a result, using an expert can be quite costly. The potential value of the expert’s testimony or evidence must be analyzed in comparison to the expense.
If a case has enough evidence from eyewitnesses and documentary evidence relating to the accident, an expert witness may not be necessary. However, if the direct evidence may not be sufficient to establish liability or damages, your lawyer might consider using an expert witness on specific issues.
The decision about using experts also may be affected by whether the opposing party uses experts to provide evidence on a specific issue in the case, such as contributory negligence. If the other party uses an expert witness, your attorney may need to produce an expert as well. However, experts are subject to cross examination, just as any witness, and sometimes the credibility of an opposing expert can be undermined by effective cross examination.
Your lawyer weighs all the relevant considerations in deciding whether to use expert witnesses in your case. The potential use of expert witnesses is one of many aspects of the case that your personal injury attorney discusses with you as part of evaluating an injury claim.
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If you received injuries in an accident caused by another person and think you may have a personal injury claim, our Virginia injury attorneys at Renfro & Renfro are here to help. We welcome you to contact us for a free consultation.