The Role Of Expert Witnesses In Personal Injury Cases

Published on 01/20/2024 by Monica Burneikis

Expert witnesses are essential to most personal injury cases because they provide a subjective opinion and, often, incontrovertible evidence that impacts a case’s outcome, settle amounts, and so on. The right personal injury lawyer has trusted connections with the community’s most respected and qualified expert witnesses, helping clients achieve the best possible outcome for their case.

What Is An Expert Witness & What Role Do They Play?

Expert witnesses are a specific category of witnesses. Unlike bystander witnesses (lay witnesses) who provide their reports or testimony about what they saw, heard, experienced, etc., leading up to, during, or after an accident, expert witnesses are credentialed, licensed, and/or certificated experts in their fields. They have no involvement in the event, and, excluding medical and psychological experts, they don’t have any connection to the victim(s). 

Examples of expert witnesses called most commonly to testify during personal injury lawsuits are:

  • Physicians or medical experts. This category includes physicians, nurses, and other medical specialists who can discuss resulting injuries in a way the jury will understand and provide detail about how those injuries affect the client in the present and long term. 
  • Mental health professionals. Significant accidents and their resulting injuries can have a lasting effect on a victim’s mental and emotional well-being, including causing long-term anxiety, depression, and phobias - especially if an accident had a life-altering impact. Having an expert explain the reasons underlying the development and continuation of these mental injuries on an accident victim is essential to a juror's understanding of overall severity of an accident.
  • Economic experts. It is difficult for people to understand the cumulative effects of accidents or injuries on a person’s economic forecast. Economic experts crunch the numbers and provide a big-picture, black/white analysis of the financial impact an accident can have on a person long-term.
  • Life care or long-term medical care experts. If a victim requires significant care-based rehabilitation, or home care, or will require care for a lifetime, attorneys utilize life care or long-term care experts to discuss the costs today, tomorrow, and for the average life expectancy of our client.
  • Rehabilitation or vocational rehab professionals. Similarly, injuries requiring significant rehabilitation, occupational, or vocational therapy can be testified to by professionals working in those fields, thereby corroborating the testimony from medical and economic professionals.
  • Accident reconstruction specialists. If witness testimony does not match up, or if the police evidence does not adequately determine the cause and liability of an accident, accident reconstruction specialists can use engineering skills, computer programs, rules of physics, and historical evidence to provide a clearer picture of exactly what transpired.
  • Highway safety experts. Highway safety experts may be called in to testify about the existing road conditions on the day and time of the accident to further support information provided by the accident reconstruction specialists.
  • Manufacturing experts. If your case involves a faulty product, attorneys may use manufacturing experts to testify about the company in question’s quality control data, how the product is manufactured, and how the defective product caused the injury or outcome in question.

Depending on the accident or product defect contributing to your situation, personal injury lawyers rely on these experts to paint a clearer picture for the judge and jury regarding the short- and long-term impacts of our clients' accident or injury.

How Personal Injury Lawyers Use Expert Witnesses

There are two different ways lawyers use expert witnesses. 

Consulting experts

We use these professionals to learn more about our clients and to prepare for the case. The information they share helps us to determine how to shape our case, which directions to pursue, and influences which additional expert witnesses we’ll call upon along the way. 

Consulting experts may never be part of the actual court case or testimony, but their input is invaluable, and they are often who we rely on when we need new referrals for testifying experts.

Testifying experts

We meet with testifying experts before the actual court cases, too. However, testifying experts are the ones who “take the stand.” They hold up well under pressure, and their testimony supports whatever evidence we have regarding causation or liability. 

Keep in mind that in California, liability can be shared by two or more parties (called comparative negligence). So, even if our clients are assigned some of the liability, testifying experts can be helpful in helping the judge and jury see how others were responsible so settlements or awards are divided accordingly.

5 Ways Expert Witnesses Can Support Your Case

Here are some of the ways expert witnesses support personal injury cases.

Using expertise to provide clarification

Some cases are far more complex than others, and these are the most likely to involve expert witnesses. Their presentation of the facts and ensuring outcomes clarify complex or technical information that may confuse juries or judges without an expert’s explanation.

Establish “causation”

Causation is the legal term for “fault.” Who - or what - is at fault for the accident? As we mentioned above, this isn’t always one person or entity. For example, let’s say you were involved in a car accident when someone ran a red light. The cause and blame seem clear, However, what if evidence later indicated the driver’s brakes were faulty or their vehicle was in self-driving mode and failed? And, that a municipal employee who was supposed to lay gravel on the slippery road didn’t show up for work that day, and that intersection wasn’t graveled like it was supposed to be?

This is when expert witnesses, like roadway experts, manufacturing experts, etc., will be called in - helping the judge and jury decide who bears which percentage of the causation.

Calculating damages

Sometimes, determining causation is the easy part. The challenge arises as the court determines what the total damages will be. Expert witnesses become critical in assessing what the total financial impact is on the victim and their family, using immediate and long-term assessments.

Educating the jury

Some experts are far better than others at breaking down complicated or highly technical information. Personal injury attorneys intentionally seek expert witnesses who are good at explaining high-level information or can break down medical or technical jargon so that it’s understood. Educating the jury is key to optimizing fair outcomes.

To bolster or cast doubt

Depending on how the other side presents or defends its case, we can use expert witness testimony to strengthen our claim or challenge the other side.

Burneikis Law Accesses The Bay Area’s Top Expert Witnesses

The team at Burneikis Law has trustworthy, long-standing relationships with some of the Bay Area’s top expert witnesses. We call on them as needed to help our clients achieve the best possible outcome from their personal injury claims. Contact Burneikis Law to schedule a consultation, and we’ll let you know how expert witnesses can support your claim.

Monica Burneikis - Oakland Personal Injury Attorney
Monica Burneikis has been an accident and personal injury lawyer for over 15 years. She knows what it takes to fight with insurance companies in order to obtain maximum compensation for injury victims and their families.
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