Expert witnesses. Just the title carries a certain gravitas. However, unlike a regular witness who has first-hand knowledge of the incident in question and simply shares with the court the facts of what he or she saw or heard, an expert witness instead shares their opinion regarding various details of the case.
Expert witnesses typically have specialized education, training, knowledge, or experience in the specific area related to their testimony. In a personal injury case, for example, an expert witness may testify about how or why the accident occurred, how you were injured, the severity of your injury or injuries, and how your injury or injuries may impact your life. An expert witness’s testimony depends on their area of expertise and the complexity of the case.
Who is considered an expert witness?
In order to understand the role of an expert witness in your personal injury case, it is important to first understand who is considered an expert witness. Under Pennsylvania law, this is determined based on the potential expert’s “knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.” According to Rule 702 of the Pennsylvania Code regarding testimony by an expert witness:
A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:
(a) the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge is beyond that possessed by the average layperson;
(b) the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue; and
(c) the expert’s methodology is generally accepted in the relevant field.
Equally as important as who is considered an expert is whether or not that so-called expert’s testimony is based on acceptable, admissible evidence. When it comes to scientific evidence, specifically novel – or new – scientific evidence, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania relies on what is known as the “Frye standard.” The Frye standard comes from Frye v. United States, a 1923 case in which the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia ruled that “expert testimony must be based on scientific methods that are sufficiently established and accepted.” In other words, the Frye standard is used to “limit evidence and expert testimony to that which could be reliable as determined by an entire field, ensuring that new methodologies first receive recognition broadly before being used.” Since the Frye standard requires expert witnesses to rely on evidence that the scientific community has already generally accepted, it is also referred to as the “General Acceptance Test” and puts the burden of proof on the opposing attorneys to prove that an expert’s data does not align with generally accepted scientific methods and principles.
It is worth noting that while Pennsylvania and a few other states still use the Frye standard, for the past 30 years the federal court system and most other states have followed the Daubert standard which offers a broader set of criteria to determine if expert testimony is admissible in court.
Do expert witnesses always testify?
No. While expert witnesses can and often do testify, that is not the only way one may assist in your case. Your Lancaster personal injury lawyer may consult with an expert on various technical aspects of your case. The expert can provide insight into the facts of your case and whether or not the evidence is enough to win your case. This may help your attorney decide if they should take your case to trial or accept a settlement.
What types of experts are involved in personal injury cases?
While there is a broad range of experts capable of testifying on nearly any subject, the expert witnesses usually relied upon on personal injury cases often include:
- Accident reconstruction experts who help identify the cause(s) of an accident, including car accidents; truck accidents; slip, trip and fall accidents; cases involving defective products; etc.
- Medical experts, including those focusing on physical and mental health who can explain the severity of your injuries and the impact they have on you and your life
- Life care planning experts who can speak regarding any disability caused by the accident, including the severity of the disability and how it may impact your quality of life and life expectancy. A life care planner can also explain the type of medical and personal care you may need in the long term.
- Engineering experts, including structural engineers and experts in the design and function of products
- Financial experts who can speak to the effect the accident and your injury have and/or will have on your financial situation, including medical and other expenses related to your injury and loss of wages due to your injury
- Vocational rehabilitation experts who can explain how the accident and your injury have affected your ability to work in the role and/or industry in which you worked prior to being injured. A vocational rehabilitation expert shares information regarding any physical or mental limitations you may have as a result of your injury and how that may impact your ability to perform certain types of work. This type of testimony can support claims related to lost or diminished wages and future earning capacity.
Depending on the specifics of your case and injuries – as well as the impact your injuries have had and will continue to have on your quality of life and your physical, mental, emotional, and financial well-being – your attorney may have one or more experts involved in your case – either as consultants or as witnesses.
Do I need an expert witness in my personal injury case?
Maybe. Whether or not an expert witness will be helpful in your personal injury case really depends on the details of your specific case. An expert witness is typically considered to be unbiased, which means that the members of the jury will be more likely to trust what he or she says. The expert can provide information and opinions that help the judge and jury understand any complicated aspects of your case. This can mean testifying as to how the accident occurred, the types of injuries you suffered, and how those injuries have and will impact your finances.
For instance, an expert might help reconstruct the scene of a car accident, explaining how and why the accident occurred. Or, if you were injured due to a defective product, an expert might explain to the court how the product is supposed to work, how and why it likely malfunctioned, and how this caused your injury. In any personal injury case, an expert witness can help the court understand the extent of your injuries, how your injuries affect your quality of life, and the kind of short- and long-term financial burden your injuries may create.
An experienced Lancaster personal injury lawyer like the attorneys at KBG Injury Law can advise you regarding the use of expert witnesses in your personal injury case. If you or a loved one were injured due to someone else’s negligence, it is important that you speak with an attorney as soon as possible. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries, financial losses, and pain and suffering. The personal injury lawyers at KBG Injury Law can help. From our offices in Lancaster, Gettysburg, Hanover, Harrisburg, and York, we represent clients in personal injury cases throughout South Central PA. We stand ready to fight for you. Give us a call or complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation.
The personal injury attorneys at KBG Injury Law are all experienced litigators. Almost all of them represented insurance companies prior to becoming advocates for injured people, which provides them with a unique perspective and insight into how these companies operate. They also offer extensive courtroom experience if going to trial is the best legal alternative for the client.