Why Are Witnesses Important in Lawsuits?

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The success (or failure) of a personal injury lawsuit is often linked to how well the facts and issues in a case can be understood. Personal injury attorneys often turn to expert witnesses to help explain more intricate and nuanced elements of a case. An expert’s input and interpretation of a complicated issue can be invaluable in a personal injury lawsuit.

Experts can be instrumental both before and during a case. Prior to a trial, experts can help to persuade opposing parties to agree to a favorable settlement. During a trial, experts can offer facts, insight, and opinions to educate judges and juries about facts and issues that may not be common knowledge.

What Makes a Witness an “Expert”?

Witnesses in personal injury lawsuits are generally broken down into two categories: lay and expert. A lay witness is, by default, considered to be anyone who is not an expert. What makes a witness an “expert,” then? There is no single definition of what will make someone an “expert.”

However, there are certain factors that help to narrow the scope for permissible experts. A person’s “knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education” are all taken into consideration when determining whether or not they qualify to testify as an expert. Factors that may help to qualify a witness as an expert include:

  • Credentials,
  • Publication in peer-reviewed journals,
  • Professional and educational experience,
  • Prior expert testimony experience, and
  • Reputation.

How are Expert Witnesses Different from Other Witnesses?

Experts are specialists in their respective fields. Medical professionals, such as:

  • Podiatrists,
  • Pediatric dentists,
  • Neurosurgeons, and
  • Anesthesiologists,

have specialized training and experience that can allow them to offer insight and explanations of technical aspects of a case.

Lay witnesses who testify in lawsuits are generally limited in the testimony they can offer. Since they are not experts, lay witnesses may only offer testimony about facts or a very limited scope of opinions. Opinions offered by lay witnesses must be limited to those based on their own personal perceptions. They may not offer opinions of a technical, scientific, or specialized nature.

Expert witnesses, on the other hand, are granted more leeway when testifying. Opinions offered by expert witnesses are presumed to be based on their expertise and impartiality to the outcome of a case. Expert witnesses may offer opinions if:

  1. Their scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will be helpful to the judge or jury to understand evidence or determine a fact;
  2. The opinion is based on facts and data;
  3. The methods used to generate the opinion are reliable; and
  4. The methods were reliably applied to the facts and evidence of the case.

Since experts can offer opinions, their testimony can be incredibly persuasive and informative.

How Do Expert Witnesses Help in Personal Injury Cases?

Proving Negligence

Personal injury lawsuits are generally based on the theory of negligence. Negligence requires a plaintiff to prove that a defendant both had and breached a specific duty or responsibility.

In some cases, it may be difficult to determine if a defendant had a duty, what their duty or responsibility was, and if their behavior breached this duty. Expert witnesses can testify to help clarify these issues. For example, if you were injured during a surgical procedure and wanted to recover compensation from your surgeon, you would have to prove that he or she was negligent. Another surgeon – of equal or superior expertise – could be brought in to testify about (a) what a surgeon’s duty of care is to a patient and (b) if the plaintiff surgeon’s behavior lived up to that duty.

Clarifying Evidence

Personal injury lawsuits can be complicated and often involve a significant amount of evidence. This evidence can be straightforward and easy to analyze, such as a red-light camera photograph of a driver speeding through an intersection. Evidence can also be complex and difficult to understand. Toxicology reports, for example, often require some explanation by someone who is familiar with the process of toxicology screening and analyzing the results.

Impartial Testimony is Respected

If you are testifying about your own personal injury lawsuit you have a stake in the case’s outcome. If your friends and family testify about the facts and issues of your case, they may also be viewed as biased. Juries and judges may take biased testimony with a grain of salt, understanding that it could be (consciously or unconsciously) skewed in the favor of one party. The same is also probably true for witnesses provided by the defense. Expert witnesses, on the other hand, do not have a stake in the outcome of the case. Their testimony may be viewed as more objective and may be more readily accepted by triers of fact.

Clarity Can Increase Damages

The more helpful information your attorney can provide, the greater your chances of maximizing your recovery. Experts can help to clear up ambiguities, offer insight that may not be readily apparent to non-experts, and emphasize facts and evidence that are favorable to your case.

When Should Expert Witnesses Be Used?

Expert witnesses can offer testimony and insight that can be crucial to a successful outcome. However, expert witnesses can be expensive. At Injury Trial Lawyers, APC, we understand the importance of balancing the cost of litigating your personal injury lawsuit with obtaining helpful and persuasive testimony.

When we investigate your accident and injury we determine which facts and issues would benefit from outside explanation and analysis. We then contact the most respected experts in the fields that we believe will be beneficial to the outcome of your case. We have successfully recovered compensation for accident injury victims using testimony from experts including:

  • Physicians;
  • Surgeons;
  • Mental health professionals;
  • Accident recreationists;
  • Toxicologists;
  • Ballistic experts;
  • Medical examiners;
  • Appraisers;
  • Forensic evidence specialists; and
  • Vocational experts.

Have you been injured in a San Diego accident? If so, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries through a personal injury lawsuit. Contact our office today for a free, no-commitment consultation. We will review your case, determine which expert witnesses may be beneficial, and present what we believe to be the best legal course of action.