If you have an upcoming personal injury trial, then odds are you already have an attorney or have started preparing to represent yourself. Either way, it’s helpful to know the reasons why someone would or would not choose to hire an expert witness to bolster their case. Keep in mind, not every case needs an expert witness. Similarly, even if you think an expert witness would help your case, it might not be the best decision based on some of the possible drawbacks.
During the process of presenting your case at trial, you submit different kinds of evidence for the jury to evaluate. Not every piece of information or opinion is admissible at trial. There are a number of rules that govern what can and cannot be submitted to a Texas court - certainly way more than we can cover in this post. So much so that lawyers must study the evidence rules in law school for a third of their time in school! Assuming the evidence is admissible in court, parties will often enter photographs, videos, medical records, medical bills, witness testimony, audio recordings, and light sequencing reports when making their case.
Generally, plaintiffs are trying to prove the defendant: 1) caused the accident, 2) the accident caused their injuries and 3) the total amount of damages that they suffered because of the crash. While defendants argue that the crash is not their fault, that the injuries the plaintiff is claiming were not caused by the crash, and/or that the damages the plaintiff is claiming are exaggerated.
It is not enough just to stand up in court and say your side of the story. You need to have corroborating proof – also known as evidence - that supports your story. Without proof, it’s very easy for the jury to dismiss your testimony and think you’re just trying to get money from the defendant without a legitimate claim.
An expert witness is someone that has extensive training, education, or practical experience in a particular area. They usually don’t have first-hand knowledge of the crash, but instead use their education, training, and experience to review the evidence available and make a conclusion about an element in the case. Understandably, the testimony of an expert witness will be more persuasive than the testimony of a layperson because of the expert’s training and education.
Expert witnesses can be presented for a variety of reasons in personal injury cases. Some experts could be used to prove the plaintiff’s injuries, the necessity of the medical treatment, and the prognosis of future pain or physical limitations. Specific experts could be used to discuss liability and how the accident occurred; while others can present findings for potential loss of future wages and earning capacity. Using an expert witness can be highly beneficial for complex cases. They will be able to break down a complicated issue into more understandable bite-size pieces that are easier for the jury to understand and accept. A skilled expert can not only make complicated information easier to understand, but can present the information in a way that the jury never thinks to question their findings.
It is easy to see the benefit of an expert witness. While you might think that every case should use them, that might not be the best decision for your case. Expert witnesses are expensive, oftentimes costing thousands of dollars, and their fee will come out of your recovery after trial. If you have enough proof to support your story of what happened, then perhaps you don’t need an expert to talk about liability. Every case is different and needs to be evaluated on its own merits. If you have an attorney, discuss the trial strategy with them ahead of time and ask your questions! Part of their job in preparing a trial strategy is to discuss the ins and outs with you so everyone is on the same page.