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The Importance of Expert Witnesses

Posted by Harlene Labrum | Jan 04, 2021

Choosing expert witnesses for a trial can be one of the most important decisions in a personal injury case. Expert witnesses ensure that the victim's testimony regarding their medical issue or the events on the day of the accident are accurate. Additionally, expert witnesses are usually much better at withstanding harsh cross-examination simply because they have testified so often and because they are comprehensively acquainted with their subject matter. While the use of an expert witness can be an effective tool for plaintiffs, lawyers understand that jurors may sometimes regard experts as being paid for an opinion that benefits the plaintiff. The experienced personal injury attorneys at Labrum Law Firm  at (615) 338-9500 can help you determine if your case needs an expert witness while convincing jurors the opinions of the expert witness are factual and genuine.

What Rules Govern Expert Witness Testimony?

While in most cases, a witness may not testify to their own opinions or analysis, the rules are different for expert witnesses, as long as they are testifying about matters that lie within their field of expertise. The state of Tennessee is governed by Rule 702 (Article VII of the Federal Rules of Evidence) which is the same rule used by federal courts. Under this rule, courts will determine:

  • Whether the scientific evidence and methodology used by the expert has been tested
  • Whether the evidence has been subjected to publication or peer review
  • Whether there is a known error rate for the evidence
  • Whether the scientific community generally accepts the evidence presented
  • Whether the research by the expert was conducted independent of litigation

As long as the analysis of the expert is scientifically sound, an expert witness may testify about their own conclusions.

What is the Role of the Expert Witness?

Since a “regular” witness is not allowed to express an opinion during testimony, expert witnesses have a clear advantage in that they can use both facts and opinions. Persuasion of jurors involves characterizing facts in a way they can easily understand. While a layperson might be allowed to testify that the handling of toxic chemicals was “sloppy,” an expert witness can go further by saying the handling “fell below industry norms,” or “violated the applicable standards.” Expert witnesses have credibility as a result of their credentials and knowledge, while also bringing a certain level of neutrality. Jurors know attorneys are paid by their clients to present them and their actions in the most positive light but expect experts to be at least somewhat neutral, delivering opinions based on facts and evidence.  

Is the Testimony of an Expert Witness Limited in Any Way?

In Federal Courts, the Daubert standard is used to determine whether the testimony of an expert witness is admissible in a case at trial. The Daubert standard allows the trial judge to draw a conclusion as to whether the evidence presented by the expert is both relevant and reputable. The judge uses the Daubert test to determine whether the testimony is based on scientific reasoning and whether that scientific reasoning will be properly applied to facts of a particular case. The testimony of an expert witness can be excluded by a judge when it is deemed that the Daubert standard has not been met. An experienced Labrum Law Firm attorney fully understands the Daubert standard and can not only ensure that your expert witness is qualified, but can also challenge expert witnesses presented by opposing counsel.

Can an Attorney Challenge an Expert Witness?

Once it is established that the testimony of an expert witness follows Rule 702, then there are few limitations, however, an attorney may challenge the conclusions or opinions of the expert. In general, attorneys think carefully before challenging an expert if the issue is merely a dispute within the relevant community regarding the opinion of the expert. If the expert's opinion is clearly without basis, then the theory or scientific method can certainly be challenged.

Challenges to expert testimony are generally accomplished through the testimony of another expert witness—preferably one with more experience or better credentials. Because expert testimony can be very persuasive to jurors, courts have a process to assess the reliability of the expert's opinion prior to the trial, determining whether the jury should hear the testimony.

Both attorneys in a case are allowed to ask questions to qualify an expert witness. These questions might include—but are not limited to—the following:

  • How long have you worked in this particular field?
  • Do you hold certifications in this field?
  • Where did you attend college, and what degrees do you have?
  • Have you published in peer-reviewed journals?

A successful Daubert challenge may challenge the expert's opinion, or the expert himself or herself, and if certain criteria are met, the testimony of the expert could be excluded.  

How Is the “Right” Expert Witness Chosen?

While your attorney will choose an expert witness based on a number of factors, there are additional considerations when choosing an expert. The basic factors include:

  • Does the expert have significant professional experience?
  • Does the expert have a solid track record?
  • Has the expert testified before this case?
  • Has the expert testified for both plaintiff and defendant?
  • What are the expert's current credentials?
  • Does the expert exhibit current, active participation in his or her field of expertise?
  • Is the expert articulate?
  • Is the expert analytical?

Additionally, the attorney will determine whether the expert will be able to convey information and evidence to jurors in a way they can understand, whether the expert can be calm under pressure, and whether the expert's credentials are virtually unimpeachable.

Consider Labrum Law Firm To Help You Choose Your Expert Witnesses

The attorneys at Labrum Law Firm have a deep understanding of the importance of expert witnesses in a trial. An expert can provide background information, build context for jurors, and explain scientific principles in an easily understandable manner. We know that the outcome of your case is of the highest importance and we will work tirelessly to ensure the most positive outcome possible. Contact our experienced personal injury attorneys at Labrum Law Firm today by calling (615) 338-9500.

About the Author

Harlene Labrum

Harlene is focused and passionate about helping those injured in car wrecks.  She earned her J.D. at Nashville School of Law and her Bachelor's degree at State University of New York at Albany, awarded with the highest GPA and high honors.  Harlene began her career in law as a personal injury par...

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