The Role of Expert Witnesses in Personal Injury Cases
To win a personal injury case, a plaintiff has the burden of proving several separate elements, most importantly fault and harm. This proof must be clear and convincing for a judge or jury. In rare cases, what caused the injury and the extent of the harm are obvious. But in most cases, these points require in-depth analysis by knowledgeable professionals, who then testify as expert witnesses. Tennessee Rules of Evidence permit testimony by experts under Rule 702, which says:
“If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will substantially assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise.”
Some of the ways expert witnesses help a plaintiff’s case are:
- Accident reconstruction — In the case of a vehicle accident, qualified engineers examine the scene and the wreckage to reconstruct the events that led to the collision. By answering questions related to how fast the vehicles were traveling, at what point the drivers applied brakes, the mechanical functioning of the vehicles, the condition of the roads, and the visibility at the scene, experts can re-create a sequence of events that leaves little doubt about who was at fault.
- Medical assessments — A plaintiff must prove the severity of his or her injuries on several levels, including their permanence, the level of pain the plaintiff suffers, the limits the injuries put on the plaintiff’s life, and the psychological impact of these factors. Medical experts including doctors, surgeons, physical therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists can give judge and jury a complete picture of the plaintiff’s current condition and present an accurate prognosis for the future.
- Economic projections — The plaintiff’s current financial losses are relatively easy to calculate. But what might the future losses be for someone who cannot work for a long period of time, who might need future medical care, or who might have to change careers due to the injury? Forensic accountants, economists, and career counselors are some of the experts who might testify on these issues.
Effective expert witness testimony depends heavily on the credibility of the witness. A witness’s credentials, preparation, delivery, appearance, attitude and demeanor combine to give an impression that either helps or undercuts the plaintiff’s case. Defense attorneys will cross-examine the plaintiff’s experts and even present experts of their own. A case can easily boil down to a battle of competing experts, with the most credible side winning.
If you have suffered a serious personal injury, talk to a knowledgeable attorney about how to recover damages. Call Massengill, Caldwell & Coughlin, P.C. today at 423-797-6022 to schedule your free initial consultation, or contact us online.