An expert witness differs from an ordinary witness in several vital respects. Although most personal injury claims do not need expert witnesses, in some instances, they are critical. For example, expert witness testimony is routine in medical malpractice and catastrophic injury cases. Expert witnesses are used in other types of personal injury claims, depending on the circumstances and complexities involved.
How Personal Injury Lawyers Use Expert Witnesses
Lawyers use expert witnesses for a variety of purposes, including:
- Proving medical negligence in medical malpractice cases
- Reconstructing car accidents to establish liability
- Reconstructing truck accidents utilizing the truck’s event data recorder
- Estimating long-term medical expenses in catastrophic injury cases
- Estimating long-term lost earnings to value diminished earning capacity
- Proving liability in a product liability case
A lawyer might use an expert witness in any case that relies on complex, specialized knowledge to establish critical facts.
Testifying Witnesses vs. Consulting Witnesses
A testifying witness testifies, and a consulting witness consults. The purpose of hiring a consulting witness is to educate an attorney about some aspect of a case.
For example, the advice of a consulting expert witness might help a lawyer formulate a theory of liability or compose a list of questions to ask the opposing party’s witness. Because they do not testify, consulting witnesses typically do not have to participate in depositions.
Maryland Rules on Expert Witnesses
The following are some of the main features of Maryland expert witness rules:
- Once the plaintiff files a lawsuit, each party may depose any expert witness the other side expects to call at trial. A deposition consists of sworn, out-of-court testimony concerning the expert’s qualifications, the subject matter of the expert’s expected testimony, and other issues.
- During pretrial discovery, the opposing party can demand a copy of any written report prepared by an expert witness expected to testify at trial.
- The lawyers must limit the questioning of the witness to the witness’s field of expertise. A medical expert witness cannot draw legal conclusions, for example. An opposing lawyer, however, can ask the witness how much they are being paid for their testimony.
Other states share similar rules on expert witnesses, but no two states’ laws are precisely the same.
Requirements for Certifying the Use of an Expert Witness
Lawyers don’t bother using expert witnesses to establish trivial facts, and judges are not inclined to allow expert witness testimony without good reason.
Following is a list of some of the relevant factors in allowing expert witness testimony:
- The expert’s specialized knowledge will help the jury establish a fact or understand the evidence.
- The witness’s testimony must rely on solid facts and data, not speculation or intuition.
- The witness must use reliable methods and principles to arrive at the content of their testimony, and the witness must appropriately apply these methods and principles. It is unlikely, for example, that a court would allow an expert in astrology to testify.
Other factors may apply, depending on the facts of the case.
Qualifications of Individual Expert Witnesses
Most of the time, an expert needs the following qualifications:
- The qualifications required by state standards for their field of expertise (e.g., an advanced degree, such as a Ph.D. or an M.D., or professional qualifications, such as a license to practice medicine)
- Publications in their field of expertise
- Awards from professional peers
- Reputation and name recognition
A judge will weigh these and other factors when determining whether the witness is qualified to testify.
Lawyers have their own concerns about whether to call a particular witness to testify. Preferably, the expert witness should have ample experience testifying in court. Responding to cross-examination without falling into any of the opposing lawyer’s traps is an art that takes experience to master.
Professional Expert Witnesses
Expert witnesses charge money for their services, and some of the more popular ones can make a full-time living testifying in court. A doctor, for example, might close their practice and become a full-time medical expert witness. These experts might make more money testifying than they made while practicing in their field of expertise.
The opposing party’s lawyer will ensure that the jury knows the witness is a professional. This might discredit the witness’s testimony by raising the question of financially-motivated bias. Nevertheless, using expert witnesses has become so routine that payment is rarely the deciding factor in evaluating the expert witness’s credibility.
Although there are agencies that can help you find expert witnesses, an experienced personal injury lawyer probably has working relationships with one or more expert witnesses. Your lawyer is likely to be more familiar with the quality of various expert witnesses than the agencies.
An Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer Has Access to Leading Experts in the Area
If your case is complex enough to consider using an expert witness, it is almost certainly complex enough to need a lawyer. Schedule a free initial consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer to get an idea of how much your claim might be worth. At that point, you will know whether it makes sense to hire an expert witness to help prove your claim.