What is an Expert Witness and Why is One Important?
If you are involved in any type of litigation, an expert witness can help make or break your case. For example, one type of expert witness may focus on assigning blame in a products liability case. Another may offer an opinion concerning custody issues in a family law matter. Nevertheless, not every lawsuit requires the retention of an expert.
When don’t you need an expert opinion? Let’s say you’re pursuing an uncontested divorce case. You and your spouse are young and only married a year or two. You do not have children together. Additionally, neither of you has a retirement savings account or personal savings. You haven’t acquired real estate or significant personal property. More than likely, there will be no reason to retain an expert. However, there are times that an expert may be necessary when couples split up.
Expert Witnesses in Family Law
If you are involved in a divorce or custody case, your attorney may suggest seeking expert opinion. This may be advisable even if you and your spouse are looking for an amicable resolution. In fact, there are times when expert opinion actually brings a swifter resolution to the pending matter. Here are some instances where it might be useful to secure an expert:
- Forensic Accountant – May be called upon to prepare a business or professional practice evaluation. Reviews financial records to determine information that may be useful in calculating spousal support and alimony. Some forensic accountants may also evaluate retirement funds to ascertain their worth. In some cases, a financial expert may find inconsistencies that suggest fraud.
- Custody Expert – In cases where the parents cannot agree on custody, both parties may need to retain a custody expert. Meanwhile, the court may also seek the professional opinion of an expert to determine what is in the best interests of the child. For the most part, custody experts are psychologists, psychiatrists or clinical social workers.
- Medical Expert – Any type of doctor may be called upon in situations where there are issues of child or spousal abuse. When support payments are an issue, a medical expert may also provide an opinion concerning the extent of one party’s disability.
- Real Estate and Personal Property Experts – In determining an equitable distribution of assets, it is necessary to know their value. Therefore, a real estate expert may submit a report regarding the value of the marital home or other property. Meanwhile, other types of experts may provide appraisals on such things as jewelry, antiques, and artwork.
As you can guess, much attention is given to the cost-effectiveness of retaining an expert. Your attorney will discuss when expert opinion is necessary. In select cases, both parties may even decide to split the cost of the expert rather than retain separate opinions.
Expert Witnesses in Personal Injury Cases
With the exception of workers compensation cases, personal injury matters are comprised of two essential elements. The first, liability, deals with the ascertaining who failed a legal responsibility due to the injured party. For example, was your hand caught in a machine because it was improperly designed?
Next, is the issue of damages. This boils down to monetary relief in a personal injury lawsuit. Nevertheless, the term damages can be broken down further. For instance, in select situations, your attorney may seek punitive damages for your injury claim.
Depending on your accident and the resultant injuries, the following types of expert opinions may be necessary:
- Medical Expert – In order to determine the extent of your injuries, your attorney and defense counsel will set up medical evaluations. This is separate and apart from any documentation submitted by treating doctors. For workers’ compensation matters, an independent medical exam may be used to determine if you need additional treatment. Also, physicians for both sides will submit their opinions regarding the permanency of your injuries.
- Accident Reconstruction Expert – In accident claims involving substantial damages, it may be difficult to ascertain the circumstances of the accident. This type of expert formulates an opinion based on the available evidence.
- Vocational Expert – When a plaintiff is so severely injured that return to employment is an issue, a vocational expert may evaluate and submit an opinion.
- Engineers – If you are making an allegation that your accident was caused by an imperfection in a machine’s design, expert opinion may be a requirement. Additionally, experts are sometimes used in sidewalk cases or construction matters.
The preceding are just some examples of experts that may be retained in support of your case. Your attorney will evaluate how your accident occurred and the extent of your injuries. If you have concerns, you should certainly address them with legal counsel.