Many people who are involved in a personal injury lawsuit are experiencing the civil court system for the first time. The civil court system is very different from the criminal courtroom dramas we see on television. A typical personal injury lawsuit never even makes it to trial. If your civil claim does make it to trial, it may have taken months or years to get to that point. There are a number of unique aspects to a personal injury court trial that are unfamiliar to the general public, including the use of expert witnesses.
In a personal injury lawsuit, the injured individual is generally seeking damages from the defendant or defendants. In order to succeed in their claim, the plaintiff has to show that the defendant breached a duty of care, which caused an injury to the plaintiff, resulting in harm. In order to prove their claim, the plaintiff presents evidence and testimony to the factfinders in the case. The factfinders are either the jury or the judge, who ultimately determine whether the defendant is liable for the plaintiff's injuries.
In a jury trial, the jury is vested with a lot of responsibility for evaluating the evidence in a civil matter. The jury can evaluate witness testimony, photo and video evidence, police reports, and other forms of evidence. However, when the evidence involves more complex issues, expert witnesses may be used to help explain scientific or technical matters to the jury.
Experts Used in Personal Injury Cases
Under the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence 702, 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:
- the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge is beyond that possessed by the average layperson;
- 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
- the expert's methodology is generally accepted in the relevant field.
No matter how intelligent a juror is, when the issue is beyond the realm of a regular person's understanding, an expert witness may be necessary to explain the issue for all the jury to understand. Issues that commonly rely on expert witnesses include scientific, technical, medical, or other specialized areas of training and knowledge.
An expert uses their training, experience and education to evaluate the facts in the case. Using generally accepted principles and methods, the expert then provides their expert opinion on the facts, which they can then present to the jury.
Depending on your case and the cause of your injury, your attorney may seek out the expert opinion of a variety of professionals, including: medical experts; engineering experts; automobile experts; manufacturing experts; or accounting experts. For example, trained healthcare professionals can explain injuries, treatments, and the future health effects of the injury to a jury. An accounting expert can explain to the jury the true cost of a serious bodily injury, including the plaintiff's ability to earn a living going forward.
When your attorney first takes your case, and compiles and evaluates all the available information, they may determine whether your case could benefit from an expert witness. They will then provide the relevant information to the prospective expert for an evaluation. The expert may then provide an expert report that lays out their opinion, the basis for their opinion, and their expert qualifications. Both the plaintiff and the defendant may utilize one or more expert witnesses for their case.
Your attorney will be preparing your case for trial, even though most personal injury cases never make it to trial. Instead, the majority of person injury cases are settled. However, even if a case is going to be settled, an expert witness can be beneficial to your case. Your expert witness may provide an expert report that can help strengthen your claim. After the defendants review your expert's report, they may decide that they should settle your case rather than risk going to trial. Your expert's report may also increase the settlement value of your case, so you can be fairly compensated for your injuries.
Even when both the plaintiff and defendant have an equally qualified expert to evaluate their side of the case, the experts may come up with opposite conclusions. In a jury trial, the jury will hear both expert witnesses, and will come up with their own conclusion based on the experts' testimony. If your case does go to trial, whether or not you use an expert witness, the factfinder will generally determine whether or not the defendant is liable for your injuries.
Philadelphia Personal Injury Attorneys
If you are filing a personal injury claim, expert witnesses may be necessary to help prove your case. Expert witnesses can explain to the jury how a defendant may be responsible for your injury, the extent of your injuries, and how the injury may impact your life. At Gilman & Bedigian, we have a physician on staff, and we also work closely with experts in a variety of fields to evaluate your case. If you or a loved one was injured, contact our team to find out more about how we can fight for you.