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what is an expert witness

Personal injury lawyers will use many means to establish facts during a court case and secure compensation for their clients. One of the most important ways in which attorneys can establish certain kinds of facts or explain information to juries is through the testimony of expert witnesses.

This guide will break down what expert witnesses do, why they’re necessary, and the role they play in personal injury cases.

What is an Expert Witness (or, a Professional Witness)?

An expert or professional witness is any individual called to testimony during a court trial with a professional opinion that may help a jury or judge make a decision regarding certain facts presented during a case.

For example, a personal injury case may involve a medical report of the victim or plaintiff’s injuries. An expert witness with a background in medicine or physiology could provide useful testimony by either vouching for or against the conclusions of the prosecution or defense.

The qualifications for an expert witness are well-defined in Rule 702 of the Legal Information Institute’s Federal Rules of Evidence. According to this rule, a witness must:

  • Actively practice in the profession that is relevant to the case or specific evidence
  • Be skilled in their profession (they cannot just have a credential to practice medicine, for instance)
  • Have specialized knowledge through experience, education, or training that laymen cannot acquire

Furthermore, Rule 702 states that expert witnesses may provide testimony if and when:

  • The expert’s specialized, technical or scientific knowledge can help juries or judges understand evidence to determine the facts
  • The testimony is both based on sufficient data/facts AND the product of reliable methods or principles
  • The expert can demonstrably and reliably apply those principles and methods to the facts at hand

Because expert witnesses must qualify as such, they are valuable assets to both prosecution teams and defense teams during court cases. They are distinctly different from lay witnesses. Their testimony is valued at a heightened level due to their status.

What do Expert Witnesses Do?

Expert witnesses provide key testimony that can verify the validity or relevance of evidence as presented to a judge or jury. Put another way, expert witnesses confirm whether certain evidence is actually relevant and worthwhile where there might otherwise be some confusion.

Furthermore, expert witnesses can clarify certain topics or concepts that are otherwise difficult to explain to a jury. For example, medical doctors may serve as expert witnesses to explain certain concepts regarding injuries, diseases, or diagnoses.

Consider a personal injury case where the plaintiff attempts to prove that another person’s actions resulted in their injury. A medical doctor acting as an expert witness could show, through examining and explaining medical evidence presented, that the evidence indicates that the plaintiff’s claims are correct.

What is a Lay Witness?

A lay witness is any testifying witness who does not qualify as an expert. Lay witness testimony can still be valuable, but they are not legally allowed to testify on any subjects or topics that require technical, specialized, or scientific knowledge beyond what can reasonably be assumed as “common knowledge”.

When Do You Need an Expert Witness in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

In personal injury lawsuits, the facts at hand may be muddied by conflicting evidence, confusing or complex circumstances, or other factors. Skilled personal injury attorneys can leverage expert witnesses to provide real benefits in multiple ways:

  • Expert witnesses can provide impartial scientific and technical testimony, delivering key information to juries to help them make a decision
  • Furthermore, expert witnesses can be of assistance during personal injury cases to establish facts like the cause of injuries, the effects of certain actions or objects, medical facts, and more

Many knowledgeable personal injury lawyers use expert witnesses in personal injury cases involving:

  • Medical malpractice cases – medical experts can establish what constitute standards of care, informed consent, and other relatively abstract topics
  • Construction accidents – construction experts or medical experts can help point out what constitutes the proper use of equipment, whether safety programs or procedures were adequate, etc.
  • Automobile accidents – auto mechanic and other mechanical experts can provide testimony explaining the causes and effects of automotive objects, vehicles, actions, and so on

These are just a few examples of the weight that expert witnesses can lend to any trial.

How to Get an Expert Witness

When it comes to personal injury cases, law firms first determine whether an expert witness would be helpful for their case by carefully examining the facts and creating an outline of their trial strategy. If they decide that expert witnesses are necessary, they can begin the search.

Some attorneys may already know experts in various fields that they can call upon for trials. For instance, many lawyers establish connections in various industries as they try cases and acquire experience in their fields. They may have met one or two medical experts in previous cases and call on those experts again for any future cases when they might need their assistance.

In other circumstances, lawyers may use expert witness referral services. Qualified referral services (which can also be called expert witness consulting firms or agencies) are essentially contact services that put legal teams in touch with diverse experts from a variety of industries.

These agencies are where many attorneys turn when they need expert witnesses from industries they have not already curated contacts from. For example, if a personal injury case requires an automobile expert, the case’s lawyers could hire an agency to find an appropriate expert with the available time to appear in court.

Contact New York Personal Injury Attorneys Today

In the end, expert witnesses are just one example of the many tools that skilled personal injury lawyers can leverage to win a case. Sobo & Sobo, for example, uses not just expert witnesses but a variety of other strategies and winning tactics to secure compensation for all of their clients’ personal injury cases. Contact them today to receive a free consultation and explore options.