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The Role of Expert Witnesses in Personal Injury Suits

What Is an Expert Witness?

An expert witness is a person who possesses particular technical knowledge of a subject matter or field that is closely related to an issue pending in a court case. In fact, an expert witness is required to have special knowledge, training, or education to be able to testify in a court proceeding. If the expert has such knowledge, then he or she may offer testimony on evidence in a suit without the requirement of directly witnessing the underlying events and facts at issue. This is because the expert's special knowledge deems him or her an authority figure in his or her particular field, able to review and analyze matters involving his or her area of authority.

What Is the Purpose of the Expert Witness?

The purpose of the expert witness in litigation is to assist the trier of fact, whether that be a judge or jury. The expert is there to help the trier of fact reach a conclusion in a court proceeding. The expert's analysis, review, investigation, and professional opinion may highlight facts, evidence, or information that was not otherwise focused upon in the case, through lay witness testimony or other means. The expert witness' analysis, review, investigation, and opinions may either bolster or contradict the testimony of other lay witnesses or competing expert witnesses hired by the other side. Often, technical, sophisticated, and complex litigation comes down to a battle of the expert witnesses hired by each side, whether they be medical, technical, engineering, financial, criminal, or other types of professionals.

What Types of Expert Witnesses Are There?

Expert witnesses can hail from a variety of fields of study and work. The common denominator is that they have special technical knowledge that sets them apart. In personal injury suits, the expert witnesses are often from medical fields, as they testify about the nature and extent of the claimant's injuries, likely causes, recommended treatment, prognosis, time line for recovery, impacts of the injury on the claimant's lifestyle, costs of treatment, and the like.

Are There Limits to the Use of Expert Witnesses?

An expert witness is restricted to testifying within the scope of his or her particular and special knowledge base. The expert must be qualified in his or her field. The process for achieving that qualification in the courtroom on the witness stand is called voir dire. Voir dire is a series of questions and proffered information, first by counsel who offers the expert's testimony and then by opposing counsel, about the education, training, work experience, teaching, and publications of a prospective expert witness candidate. An expert witness who qualifies under the voir dire process is defined as an expert in a particular limited field or subject matter for the purpose of that litigation.