Setting the record straight on expert witnesses in personal injury litigation

In the increasingly technical world of personal injury law, it’s hard to understate the importance of expert witnesses. The evidence they give in their area of specialized knowledge can make or break a case. But for outsiders to the legal profession looking in, it’s often tricky to get your head around the unique role that experts play in the process.

Most lay people can get by without knowing much about the role of an expert witness until they are unfortunate enough to become the victim of a serious injury, which may help explain why myths and misconceptions persist on the topic.

In this blog, I’m debunking the four most prevalent myths about expert witnesses.

Myth 1: Experts are only needed at trial

The sooner you hire an expert, the better it will be for your case.

Very few personal injury matters make it all the way to trial, but getting an expert witness involved early in the process allows your lawyer to confirm that you have a viable claim, establish the framework for the damages you are pursuing and begin building up your case.  

We spend a great deal of time and effort helping clients select and retain the right experts up front so they are in the best position if the evidence is ever needed at trial.

It is often helpful to obtain an expert opinion before the discovery process begins, but by the time you are approaching a mediation or pre-trial conference, it is imperative to have someone in place. These are stages in litigation where the parties are most likely to reach a settlement, so it is important to ensure that your case is as strong as possible and bolstered by expert evidence.  

Myth 2: My case is strong enough to get by without expert evidence

Your injuries may seem obvious to you, but proving your case in court is a different matter altogether.

Expert evidence is often required to convince a judge that you have met all the legal technical requirements for establishing your own damages, the precise cause of your injuries and the defendant’s liability for them.

If there is any profession that can match the legal one for extreme complexity and specialization, it is modern medicine. To fully support a claim, it’s not unusual for plaintiffs to hire multiple medical experts — including orthopedic surgeons, psychologists, chronic pain specialists, neurologists and more — who can comment on the nature and scope of each injury, as well as its effect on their current and future functioning.

The facts of your own case will dictate how many and which types of experts you will need to retain.

Myth 3: Medical experts are the only ones that matter in personal injury cases

Plaintiffs are often surprised by the sheer breadth of expertise relied on during the course of a personal injury claim.

In motor vehicle cases, questions of liability and causation often require input from engineering or traffic experts who create accident reconstructions based on police and witness reports, photographs and physical evidence from the scene.

Economic experts may also be required to determine the cost of a plaintiff’s future care needs or the future income losses that can be attributed to their injuries, so that the individual can be fully compensated for their damages.

Myth 4: My expert is on my side in court

Although it is tempting to think that an expert hired and paid for by your legal team will advocate your position, an expert’s duty is to the court, which means their focus should be on assisting the judge (and jury if there is one) to understand the complex issues within their expertise.

As a result, they must remain impartial and independent while testifying or reporting to the court since any suspicion of bias would only serve to undermine the evidence they are providing.

In addition, there are strict limits on expert witnesses once they are in the witness box. After a judge has qualified them to give their opinion on a particular area of expertise, they must stick to the topic and avoid the temptation to stray beyond the bounds of their specialized knowledge.

Debunking these myths sheds light on the crucial role expert witnesses play in personal injury litigation. Understanding the importance of early expert involvement and the impartiality expected from these witnesses contributes to a more informed approach to building a strong case.

We’re here to help. If you have been seriously injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, contact me or another member of the team at Edwards Pollard LLP for personal injury lawyers in Oakville by email or call us at (289)529-0404.

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