Expert witnesses are often thought of as “hired guns” who provide favorable testimony in return for their fees. This view is bolstered by high-profile cases where both sides rely on the testimony of seemingly highly-qualified experts who reach opposite conclusions. However, such a perspective fails to see the benefit and importance of experts in our legal system.
Lawsuits involve analysis of the law and an evaluation of the facts. Lawyers and judges are trained in the law but require assistance in analysis and explanation of certain facts. This is where experts come in.
The need for experts is essential for matters that include scientific or technical information, such as in medical malpractice lawsuits. The lawyers, judge, and jury are unlikely to have the knowledge to identify whether a healthcare provider has followed the proper procedures and maintained the standard of care. Even in less technical cases, such as in a divorce, accountants and assessors may be necessary to provide insight into the value of assets within the marital estate.
Indiana’s Rule of Evidence 702 highlights this critical role of expert witnesses by allowing an expert to provide testimony when “the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.” The expert’s job is to assist the trier of fact understand certain, usually very technical, information.
Indeed, some areas of practice require expert testimony. For example, expert testimony is often required as to both questions of standard of care and causation in medical malpractice cases. Bader v Johnson, 732 NE2d 1212, 1217 (Ind. 2000). If a party does not have an expert testifying on their behalf, their case may be dismissed.
Finding the right expert is often a critical part of the litigation strategy. The best expert is well-qualified by way of their education, training, and experience and has the ability to communicate their knowledge with people otherwise unfamiliar with the subject of their testimony.
An expert’s opinion must be based on reliable scientific principles. Research and analysis supporting proffered conclusions are subject to normal scientific scrutiny through peer review and publication. An expert opinion that meets this standard is valid even if the expert developed their opinion in preparation for expert witness testimony. See Amador v. 3M Co. (In re Bair Hugger Forced Air Warming Devices Prods. Liab. Litig.), No. 19-2899, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 24255 (8th Cir. Aug. 16, 2021). To summarize, experts are often a valuable and necessary tool in successful litigation. However, care must be taken to find experts that fit with the litigation strategy and meet the requirements of the rules of evidence.
This article is for information purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.