The Role of Expert Witnesses in Personal Injury Cases: Types and Importance

expert witness personal injury

Expert witnesses don’t get a lot of attention. If you’ve never been involved in a court case, you may not be aware of them at all. They rarely make it to the screen in courtroom dramas, because their testimony tends to be dry and complicated. Still, any experienced personal injury attorney can tell you that expert witnesses are often critical to the success of a case.

The experts a personal injury lawyer will consult and perhaps call to testify generally fall into two categories: fault witnesses and damages witnesses. Within each category are more specific areas of expertise. For example:

  • Accident reconstructionists
  • Engineers and other technical experts
  • Medical experts
  • Economic experts

Here is some additional information about the types of expert witnesses who may be called in a personal injury case–either by your injury attorney or by the insurance company’s lawyer.

Types of Expert Witnesses

Fault Witnesses in Personal Injury Cases

In a personal injury lawsuit, it’s up to the plaintiff and their injury lawyer to establish that the defendant is legally responsible for their injuries. In a negligence case, that means proving that the defendant had a duty of care, that they failed to live up to that responsibility, and that the failure caused the accident and resulting injuries. That’s more straightforward in some cases than others.

For example, if the plaintiff was sitting at a stoplight when a drunk driver smashed into their vehicle, an expert witness probably won’t be required to establish fault. But, sometimes it’s more complicated.

Imagine, for instance, that two cars collide on an empty highway with no cameras and no eyewitnesses, and each claims the other crossed the center line. In that case, your personal injury attorney might hire an accident reconstructionist to investigate the scene, the damage to the vehicles, and any photos or other evidence of where each vehicle came to a stop and where debris landed and offer an expert opinion about how the accident occurred.

Or perhaps the injury occurred because, or partly because, of faulty road design. An expert witness could assess and testify to best practices and any ways in which the design or construction of the area where the accident occurred might have contributed to the collision.

When the injury case involves an incident other than a car accident, other types of experts may be required. For example, if you were hurt in a building collapse, your personal injury lawyer might hire experts to assess and offer opinions about issues such as whether the applicable building codes had been followed, any defects in the materials used, whether the building owner should have been aware of the risk, and whether actions taken on neighboring properties might have triggered or helped trigger the collapse.

These are just a few examples of the types of expert witnesses an injury lawyer might rely on in building and presenting a personal injury case.

Damages Witnesses

Medical experts are among the most common types of damages experts. A medical expert may assess and testify to a wide range of medical issues, including:

  • The causal link between the accident and medical issues or complications you experienced
  • The likelihood that you will make a full recovery and the timeline for recovery
  • Any additional medical procedures or ongoing care you will need as a result of your injuries
  • Whether and to what extent your life expectancy has been impacted by the injury
  • The connection between your injuries and any aggravation of pre-existing conditions or triggering of underlying medical conditions

This type of testimony can be critical to your case when the injuries are lasting, because you will be seeking compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and other losses that haven’t yet occurred when your lawyer is negotiating a settlement or presenting your case to a jury. Speculation about what the future looks like and whether you will need additional surgery or other care isn’t enough. You must prove those damages, and an expert witness is typically the best way to do so–perhaps the only way.

If your injuries are serious and long-term or permanent, your lawyer may retain an expert to explain the impact your injuries will have on your ability to work, care for yourself, and enjoy normal activities you engaged in before the injury.

You may also need to rely on one or more economic experts, who can testify with regard to issues such as:

  • The lifetime value of lost earnings, if you are unable to return to work, are forced to change careers, or are likely to see your working years shortened due to the accident
  • Project the cost of future medical expenses, assistance, and other injury-related costs given inflation and other variables

Multiplying your annual income by the number of years you would have had left in the workforce isn’t sufficient to prove lost income. That calculation must take into account variables such as how your income would likely have increased over time, both due to inflation and to increasing levels of experience and advancement in your field.

Defense Experts

In each of these areas and others, the defense may hire their own witnesses. Experts for the defense may call causation into question, argue that your injuries aren’t as severe as you claim, or make competing estimates of how much money you would have earned across your career if you had not been injured. That’s why it’s important that your personal injury attorney knows how to hire and work with the best experts for the specific issues in your case.

Talk to an Experienced Florida Personal Injury Lawyer Right Away

There are many reasons to hire an experienced local injury attorney and to do so as soon as possible after the accident. One is that your attorney can identify and retain expert witnesses to work on your behalf. Depending on the issues in the case, it may be beneficial for your attorney to investigate and get an expert witness involved right after the crash. For example, physical evidence such as a defective motor vehicle part may not be available for inspection unless you act quickly.

If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one in an accident you believe was someone else’s fault, give yourself the benefit of an experienced injury lawyer right away—schedule a free consultation today.