The Role of Expert Witnesses In Personal Injury Cases

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Some personal injury cases are fairly simple, “open and shut” cases. However, some require further investigation, and some may even need the testimony or evidence of an expert in order to parse exactly what occurred during a specific accident. This is where expert witnesses usually come in. Not everyone is aware of the expert’s role in personal injury cases, though, and it is best to fully understand what an expert can and cannot do before proceeding.

Who Can Be An Expert?

Experts are not “witnesses” in the classical sense, but are still part of the plaintiff or defendant’s case due to their skills in a particular area: for example, accident reconstruction or automobile maintenance. South Carolina holds that to qualify as an expert, one must have acquired “by reason of study or experience” a degree of knowledge in a specific area to the point where they are better qualified than the jury to form an opinion on that specific area of testimony. If you have a witness who is qualified as an expert, it takes a showing of abuse of discretion on the judge’s part to take back that qualification.

One important distinction is that in some states, expert witnesses are required to possess degrees or other credentials in the field of study on which they are professing to be an expert. This is not necessarily the case in South Carolina. For example, in the case of 5 Star Inc. v Ford Motor Company (2014), the Supreme Court upheld a verdict based partly on the testimony of an expert who had never worked in any job related to the topic on which he spoke (automotive engineering), he was nonetheless qualified, having a “vast amount of experience” in the field, as well as having designed some of the component parts of the automobile in question. This was sufficient experience for the court, despite the lack of study in the field.

Qualifications & Most Common Areas of Testimony

Generally, there are four elements that must be proved in any personal injury case that is based on negligence: duty of care, breach of that duty, causation (that is, proof the plaintiff’s injuries were directly caused by defendant’s actions), and damages. Law in South Carolina generally establishes duty of care between a motorist, pedestrians and other drivers, and as such an experienced attorney can often show breach of duty. However, causation can be extremely difficult to prove, especially with few witnesses and poor memories of an accident, and while damages can be shown with medical records, the extent of the damage may be in doubt. These are the areas where an expert witness can make a huge difference.

The one slight disadvantage to an expert witness being involved in your case is that depending on your situation; the fee to hire an expert can be quite high. If your expert witness is one of only a few in a particular field, they generally charge more than someone with a more common area of expertise. However, this is generally not an insurmountable obstacle, because it is possible in some instances that the expert’s fee will be advanced by your attorney, and will be recouped as part of a contingency fee.

A Competent Attorney Can Work Well With Experts

Expert witnesses can make a significant difference in your case, especially if the proverbial devil is in the details. If you are still confused about their role, it is likely a good idea for you to seek the counsel of an experienced attorney. The skilled North Charleston personal injury attorneys at Callihan & Syracuse are happy to answer your questions and help you through a process that can be very confusing at the best of times. Contact our office today to discuss your case.