hands of expert witness pointing at a document on the stand
14 Jul

What Role Do Expert Witnesses Play in Personal Injury Laws?

The complexity of personal injury cases often requires a blend of legal and technical knowledge. This is where expert witnesses come into play, where the laws and regulations surrounding personal injury cases can vary greatly. Let’s explore expert witnesses' fundamental role and their pivotal influence on case outcomes.

Evaluating the Credibility of Expert Witnesses

In a nutshell, expert witnesses are professionals with specialized knowledge or skills relevant to a particular case. Although these professionals were not present at the incident in question, they should have enough prior knowledge and experience to provide an objective analysis and explain complex case issues that a judge or jury may need to understand fully.

Therefore, the credibility of an expert witness can make or break a personal injury case. Before providing testimony, expert witnesses must establish credibility based on their education, training, and experience. In Florida, experts must meet stringent criteria before they are permitted to testify, and both the courts and opposing counsel meticulously scrutinize their credentials.

Selecting Expert Witnesses

Selecting the right expert witness in a personal injury case is strategic. It involves finding an expert in a field directly relevant to the case against whom or on whose behalf the testimony is offered, along with a minimum number of years in their profession, proof of active practice, and credits from an affiliated school.

In 2013, Florida adopted the Daubert standard, named after a landmark Supreme Court case. Under Daubert, an expert “will only be allowed to testify if he or she is able to prove to a judge that the pertinent theory has been tested and has been subject to peer review, has a low rate of error and is generally accepted within the scientific community,” JoAnn Guerrero, Esq., writes in Issue 2015 Volume 12 Number 3 of Risk Rx.

Their credibility, determined by their qualifications and ability to present complex information clearly and understandably, can significantly affect the weight given to their testimony. Following the Daubert standard, expert witnesses must provide substantial evidence outside of “that is my opinion.”

Challenging an Expert Witness

On the flip side, opposing counsel can challenge an expert witness's credibility or relevancy of their testimony to weaken the impact of their evidence. These Daubert challenges are a common strategy. If successful, they can exclude the expert’s testimony, significantly affecting the case's outcome.

A classic example of a Daubert challenge occurred in the case of Kumho Tire Co. Ltd. v. Carmichael in 1999. In this case, a tire blowout led to a fatal vehicle accident. The plaintiff’s expert witness, who was an engineer with a background in mechanical engineering but not a tire expert, attempted to testify that the blowout was due to a defect in the tire.

The defense challenged the expert's qualifications, as well as the scientific validity of his methods to reach his conclusion. Ultimately, the Supreme Court extended the Daubert standard to include not just scientific experts but all expert testimony, ruling that the expert witness's testimony, in this case, could not be accepted because his methodology was not sufficiently reliable.

Hiring Expert Witnesses

Expert witnesses must be hired attorneys representing the plaintiff or the defendant in a personal injury case. Referring to the selection process, the “expert witness” must pass a certain background check, possessing the specialized knowledge needed for the particular case. These professionals can completely change the trajectory of a case and ultimately tip the scales in your favor.

One notable example illustrating the importance of expert witnesses is the infamous McDonald's hot coffee case (Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants) from 1994. In this case, the plaintiff, Stella Liebeck, suffered third-degree burns from a McDonald's coffee. Liebeck's lawyers hired a burn expert, who testified that the coffee, served between 180 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit, was excessively hot for safe consumption. The expert’s testimony was instrumental in demonstrating that the coffee temperature at which McDonald's served was dangerously high and far from standard practices, thus establishing the corporation's liability.

An economic expert was also crucial in this case, helping to calculate Liebeck's past and future medical costs and her loss of earnings. The combination of these expert testimonies played a significant role in the jury awarding Liebeck $2.86 million, which was later reduced to around $640,000 upon appeal.

Expert witnesses often come with substantial costs, but their value in a case can outweigh the expense. While expert witnesses are hired and paid by one party or the court, it is important to note that their primary duty is to the court itself, not the party who hired them. They must provide objective, unbiased testimony based on their expert knowledge and interpretation of the facts.

Understanding Expert Witnesses vs. Eye Witnesses

Unlike eyewitnesses, who provide testimony based on personal observations, expert witnesses offer an objective analysis based on their specialized knowledge and experience. Their opinions often carry more weight due to their ability to interpret technical data and provide unbiased insights accurately. In the next blog, we’ll dive deeper into the key differences between expert witnesses and eyewitnesses.

Expert witnesses play a crucial role in these cases, and the team at Carrillo Injury Law is experienced in collaborating with top-notch experts to build strong, compelling cases for our clients. Whether you're dealing with medical malpractice, a car accident, or any other personal injury situation, we're ready to guide you every step of the way. We understand the ins and outs of the legal system and are committed to helping you achieve the best possible outcome for your case.

Don't leave your case to chance. Reach out to the experts at Carrillo Injury Law. Give us a call at 352-371-4000 or email us at office@carrilloinjury.com. Let us fight for your rights and help you navigate the legal maze with confidence and peace of mind.