Courtroom trials generally use two kinds of witnesses: lay witnesses and expert witnesses. A lay witness relays what they have personally experienced but cannot express their opinion.
An expert witness is someone with significant skill and knowledge in a particular field whose professional opinion is considered valuable. The testimony of an expert witness can help a judge or jury make sense of an otherwise confusing set of facts.
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What Are the Preconditions to Expert Testimony in Florida?
There are two preliminary hurdles that an expert witness must overcome before a court allows them to testify: subject matter and expertise.
Appropriate Subject Matter
Some fields are essentially “expert-less” fields. The subject matter must be such that an expert can help the court determine relevant facts. A significant body of knowledge must have developed in the field in which the expert will testify, and this knowledge must be credible. For example, an astrology expert will not likely be accepted to testify concerning a defendant’s personality traits or propensity for violence.
An expert witness must possess significant knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education in the field in which they will testify. Many expert witnesses will have advanced degrees, which is a requirement in some fields, such as medicine. An advanced degree is not a requirement for every field, however. The only significant requirement is a demonstrated expertise in which the expert will testify.
Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.390 sets out the general qualifications of an expert witness.
Some of the more specific factors include:
- Academic qualifications
- Professional experience
- Publications in academic journals
- Name recognition
A court will consider all of the foregoing factors.
Are Expert Witnesses Unbiased?
Theoretically, yes. In practice, this is not always a certainty. The parties choose their own expert witnesses. For example, the plaintiff might select an expert witness, and the defendant might choose their own expert. Both witnesses are bound to give their honest professional opinions. You can be sure, however, that the defendant will not use an expert witness whose testimony favors the plaintiff.
What Happens When Expert Witnesses Contradict Each Other?
In some cases, the testimony of expert witnesses may directly contradict each other. This often happens when the mental health of the defendant is at issue. In other matters, such as those involving a straightforward application of the laws of physics, expert witnesses are not so likely to contradict each other.
When expert witnesses contradict each other, the jury must decide which expert to believe. On unusual occasions, a judge will overrule a jury’s decision that sides with one expert witness over the other. When this happens, the losing party is likely to appeal the decision.
The Payment of Expert Witnesses
In most cases, expert witnesses are paid a fee for their testimony and the research leading up to it. In fact, some expert witnesses are professionals who make a full-time living based on providing testimony in depositions and courtroom trials. There are even agencies that help lawyers locate professional expert witnesses.
You can be certain that if you call an expert witness, the opposing party’s lawyer will see that the jury knows you are paying the witness for their testimony. Normally, this doesn’t matter. In some types of cases, such as medical malpractice cases, the use of paid expert witnesses is the norm. Most of the time, the payment of an expert witness is simply not an issue.
How Do Lawyers Use Expert Witnesses in Personal Injury Cases?
Lawyers use expert witnesses for many purposes, including:
- To win medical malpractice claims, especially to determine the exact nature of the defendant’s professional duty of care toward the patient.
- To reconstruct accidents to determine fault. In truck accidents and some automobile accidents, you can often use an event data recorder (“black box”) to obtain enough data to allow an expert to reconstruct an accident.
- To explain why a consumer product that injured someone was defective and to provide an opinion on why the product was defective.
- To estimate long-term medical expenses arising from a catastrophic injury.
- To estimate the long-term financial losses arising from a permanent occupational disability.
Lawyers use testifying expert witnesses for many other purposes as well.
Consulting Expert Witnesses
Consulting expert witnesses do not typically testify in court. Instead, they provide expertise so that the lawyer can understand the case and know how to approach it. A consulting expert witness might even prepare a written report containing their evaluations of the case.
An Experienced Lawyer Will Have Access to Leading Expert Witnesses
You can look through expert witness agencies to find a witness who will testify for you. You might not choose the right expert, however. And choosing the right expert witness could make the difference between the success or failure of your claim. Experienced personal injury lawyers in Clearwater are well-acquainted with expert witnesses they have worked with many times before. Let a lawyer help you find the expert witness that best serves your personal injury case.