Expert Testimony: Not Required, But Often Vital
When a plaintiff brings a personal injury lawsuit, he must be prepared to prove damages within a reasonable degree of certainty. In many cases, expert witnesses are called on to establish this type of proof.
Expert witnesses are individuals who have scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge that will help a jury understand the evidence presented or clarify a fact that is in dispute, as long as the testimony is:
- Based upon sufficient facts or data
- The product of reliable principles and methods that have been reliably applied to the facts of the case
Expert Testimony in a Personal Injury Case
A personal injury lawyer may call on several types of witnesses to provide expert testimony, including:
- Medical experts, who testify about the injuries or illnesses suffered by the plaintiff, the disabilities that such conditions might cause, the permanence of the injuries, and how the conditions are related to the accident in question
- Economists, who develop a theory of damages and testify regarding the long-term economic losses an injury may have caused
- Accident reconstruction experts, who testify about how an accident likely occurred, particularly when eyewitness testimony is not available, disputed, or otherwise questionable
- Vocational experts, who testify how a plaintiff’s injuries will affect his earning capacity
- Construction and safety experts, who testify about the existence of unsafe conditions in slip-and-fall or premises liability cases.
The Value of Expert Testimony
Although a plaintiff is not required to introduce expert testimony to establish that the defendant caused his injuries and damages, when an issue or dispute is too complicated for the ordinary juror to understand, an expert may be needed to explain complex concepts and provide guidance to the jury, as in the following circumstances:
- A person involved in an accident may have a difficult time remembering exactly what happened, but an accident reconstruction expert can help fill in the gaps.
- A treating physician or medical expert can relate a victim’s injuries to the accident in question, provide an opinion regarding the necessity of future medical treatment, and give the jury a concrete number regarding what such treatment will likely cost.
- If a plaintiff is no longer to perform the same work that he did before the injury or is unable to work at all, vocational experts and economists are trained to testify about how this will affect his future earning capacity and ability to support himself and his family during the remainder of his life.
Expert Testimony May Be Critical
Just because expert testimony is not required does not mean it is a bad idea. To the contrary, it is often critical to have experts testify as to future damages and causation, even if not absolutely required.
Generally speaking, the more complex a personal injury case, the more expert witnesses may need to be called. If the plaintiff doesn’t call an expert witness to testify regarding complicated issues, the court will generally not allow him to present such issues before the jury. If such issues are not presented, a plaintiff’s recovery of damages will likely be severely limited.
Image by wavebreakmediamicro/123RF.