What is an expert witness? A key component that can literally make or break the outcome of a trial.
But hiring one can cost anywhere from $200-$1000 an hour, or even into the triple digits for more specialized topics. So you want to be sure that the witness will provide the value that you’re looking for.
Read on to learn why you might need them for your case and how to find them.
What Is an Expert Witness?
Lawyers bring in expert witnesses when they need to explain something to the jury that the average layperson wouldn’t understand.
For example, doctors are often brought in to testify during medical malpractice cases. It’s important for juries to know what would (or wouldn’t) have happened had the doctor involved in the case taken different actions.
Expert witnesses are independent of the case. Unlike regular witnesses who are called in to tell the jury what they know about the case, expert witnesses don’t have any personal knowledge of the case.
As such, the rules for expert witnesses are a little different. Regular witnesses are only allowed to testify about what they saw or heard. They are not allowed to give their opinion.
Expert witnesses explain how something relevant to the case works. They also analyze the facts and give their professional opinion on them. The opinion must be based on sound science.
They are allowed to discuss even pieces of evidence that are considered inadmissible. For example, X-rays might normally be considered hearsay in court, but a doctor can examine and testify about them.
Who Can Be an Expert Witness?
Anyone who has specialized knowledge in a particular field or topic can be an expert witness. Doctors or medical specialists often testify in cases of malpractice. Accountants and other financial experts, forensic scientists, mental health practitioners, and vocational experts all commonly appear as expert witnesses in courts.
Sometimes, unusual expert witnesses are in order. Consider this example of a personal injury case in which the client slipped on a tree nut in the parking lot of a major company. The attorney called in an arborist as an expert witness to explain the life cycle of the tree nut.
His explanation indicated that the nut had been there for over a week. This, in turn, indicated that the nut had been there long enough that it should have been cleaned up during routine maintenance, thus winning the case.
The best expert witnesses take complex, high-level topics and explain them in a way that the average person can understand. Helping the jury understand a key component of the case can literally change the outcome.
In some cases, the information is as complex as the lifecycle of a tree nut.
Qualifications of an Expert Witness
Of course, in order to be an effective expert witness, their qualifications must first be established. It’s easy for the opposing counsel to discredit an expert witness if they don’t have a solid profile.
To that end, the witness will prepare a report detailing their credentials. The report will also show how their knowledge fits in with the case and why their opinion is relevant.
Additionally, as the witness gives their testimony, they should supply the court with facts and information as well as explain their relevance to the subject matter.
In the case of scientific testimony, the expert will also have to explain the process they used to arrive at their conclusion. Without this information, it is relatively simple for opposing counsel to call into question the witness’ testimony.
The admissibility of the witness’ testimony is entirely reliant on the judge. If the judge determines that their process was flawed, the rate of error is too high, or the results are not reproducible, they can deem the testimony inadmissible and the time and money you put into the witness go out the window.
How to Find an Expert Witness
Not all expert witnesses are created equal. The right one makes all the difference in court so you must choose carefully.
Simply typing “expert witness near me” in Google will probably return a list of results. But they will be mediocre at best. Hiring an expert witness is expensive, and as we’ve seen, everything has to be done right to avoid losing their testimony or its credibility.
Going through a company that provides expert witness referrals is a better move. They thoroughly vet each expert witness in their directory to ensure high-quality witnesses.
Some referral services specialize in a certain type of witness, like medical experts. Others are more general.
Your lawyer may also already have connections with expert witnesses they’ve used in the past. Or they may be able to ask around amongst their colleagues for a referral.
For a very specific or unusual type of expert, like an arborist, you might need to go knocking on doors at your local university to find a suitable expert. But if the expert you find has never testified in court before, be sure that your attorney is prepared to coach them well on how to present themselves and their opinion.
Turning the Tide of Your Court Case
We hope we’ve cleared up the question “what is an expert witness?” As you’ve learned, expert witnesses can be expensive but integral to the success of your case. As always, talk your situation over with your lawyer to effectively plan your strategy.
Looking for more great law advice? Keep browsing our site! We have information on everything from how to handle a personal injury case to filing for divorce.