The Role of Expert Witnesses in Catastrophic Injury Cases

If you are seeking compensation in a catastrophic injury lawsuit, your catastrophic injury lawyer may request a medical expert to testify at your trial. Expert witness testimony isn’t conclusive but can help the jury to better understand the evidence. Read on to learn more about the role of expert witnesses in catastrophic injury cases and what to expect at your trial.

What Is an Expert Witness?

An expert witness is an expert in a particular field who is asked to give testimony during a trial and explain one or more elements of a case to the jury. Your attorney may seek expert testimony if the case involves technical, scientific, or other complex issues that:

  • Are not readily apparent to a layperson; or
  • Require specialized knowledge to interpret

What Is the Role of Expert Witnesses in Catastrophic Injury Cases?

The role of an expert witness is to share their knowledge in an accessible way to enable the jury to draw conclusions from the evidence or determine a fact. For instance, expert testimony in a catastrophic injury case can help the jury to determine:

  • The long-term physical and psychological effects of your injury
  • Your future medical needs, including the course of treatment
  • Future medical costs
  • The prognosis for your ability to work and future earning capacity
  • The injury’s impact on your quality and enjoyment of life

The average layperson will have limited to no knowledge on medical issues. That makes it difficult — and sometimes impossible — to determine with reasonable certainty whether or not you will experience pain and suffering in the future without expert input.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Some injuries are objective and plainly apparent to anyone. One example would be cases involving the loss of a body part. Jurors don’t require expert testimony to determine whether a missing eye or limb is a permanent injury.

Examples of Expert Witnesses

All types of personal injury cases may require or benefit from expert witness testimony. Here are some examples of how an attorney could use expert witnesses in different scenarios:

Technical Expert Witness

  • You were injured while jet skiing. The company providing the jet ski experience conducted the tour in windy weather. An experienced jet ski rider and company owner testifies whether allowing the tour under those conditions would amount to a breach of duty of care.
  • You were injured in an auto accident, but it’s unclear whether you or the other driver was at fault. An accident reconstruction expert testifies whether the other motorist exceeded the speed limit based on the damage to the vehicles and the skid marks on the roadway.

Medical Expert Witness

  • You suffered severe back injuries in a truck accident. A medical expert testifies whether you are likely to experience lifelong complications and chronic pain and estimates the cost of treatment throughout your lifetime.
  • You developed PTSD after an accident that interferes with your ability to work. A medical expert testifies whether your PTSD was caused by the accident and explains to the jury how this condition may interfere with your work and daily activities.

Who Can Be an Expert Witness in California?

Under Evidence Code §720(a), anyone may testify as an expert witness if they have one of the following attributes that qualify them as an expert on the subject to which the testimony relates:

  • Special knowledge
  • Skill
  • Experience
  • Training
  • Education

Note that there is no requirement for expert witnesses to hold a particular degree. While advanced education in the field is certainly a factor that the jury will consider, a person can be an expert witness without a degree. The law recognizes that subject matter expertise is the sum total of a person’s experience, abilities, and education. Any of the following may indicate expertise:

  • Education (degrees, certifications)
  • Specialized training
  • Professional experience
  • Recognition in the field (honors, awards)
  • Research experience
  • Teaching experience
  • Publications
  • Membership in professional organizations
  • Prior expert witness qualifications

Expert Testimony Is Not Conclusive

Just because someone is a subject matter expert doesn’t mean they will be allowed to testify. Ultimately, the court has discretion whether to admit or deny expert testimony. Note also that even if the court allows an expert to testify, the jury may agree or disagree with what they say.

That is why it’s crucial that your attorney lays a proper foundation and showcases the expert’s credentials before introducing their testimony. To that end, your catastrophic injury lawyer may ask the following questions on direct examination:

  • “What specialized education do you have in the field of…”
  • “Please describe your professional experience in the field of…”
  • “Have you served as an expert witness in similar trials in the past?”

Before that, your attorney would have verified the expert’s purported qualifications.

How a Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help

An experienced catastrophic injury lawyer can identify the right expert witness for your claim. They can also check their credentials and lay the foundation to have the expert testimony admitted into evidence.

Crucially, a good catastrophic injury lawyer will know how to question the witness and extract the information the jury needs to make a determination. This is essential in a catastrophic injury claim. You want to make sure that the evidence — including any expert testimony — is as clear and accessible as possible.

The jury should be able to assess the long-term consequences of your injury and how these are likely to affect your life going forward. Otherwise, you risk jeopardizing your claim and leaving a substantial amount of compensation on the table.

Contact an Experienced Catastrophic Injury Attorney in Orange County, CA

Catastrophic injury cases present more challenges than regular personal injury claims. With so much at stake, you want a seasoned legal team fighting in your corner. At Khalil Law Group, our Orange County attorneys can advise you on all aspects of your claim, including identifying the right expert witness for the case and laying the foundation for their testimony. To learn more about the role of expert witnesses in catastrophic injury cases, call us at (714) 617-7870 to schedule your free consultation.

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