Expert Witnesses: Linchpin to Jury Trials

For jury trials that center on complicated medical procedures or the design of a product, expert witnesses are an invaluable resource to both the party that retains them, as well as jury members who are likely unfamiliar with many of the issues at hand. In turn, credible experts must not only demonstrate a thorough command of their knowledge area, but also an understanding of the trial process and the evidence admissibility standard in their jurisdiction.

In 2013, Governor Scott signed into law a bill that amends Florida’s evidence code and replaces the Frye standard which had previous dictated the admissibility of expert testimony in Florida, with the Daubert standard . Under this new standard, an expert witness by knowledge, experience, skill, or training may provide opinion testimony if:

  1. The testimony is based on sufficient facts or data
  2. The testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods
  3. The witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case

However, it is important to note that the change in the rules of evidence may still be subject to interpretation by Florida courts.

The Importance of Experts

Opinion—rather than fact—testimony has numerous advantages. Indeed, experts are allowed more discretion than lay witnesses to present opinions. Thus, even if a product was designed and manufactured according to industry standards, an expert witness is still permitted to express an opinion that the product was poorly made. This freedom makes an expert a powerful advocate and lends credibility to the party that called the expert at trial.

Thus, while the expert may appear as a neutral to the jury, he or she is actually presenting a carefully constructed point of view. Moreover, there are certain issues that require expert witnesses, such as the standard of care in professional malpractice actions, the causation of a plaintiff’s injuries in toxic exposure cases, and reasonably appropriate amounts of economic damages.

Determining Whether an Expert is Needed

At the outset of trial, an attorney must determine whether the testimony of an expert witness would be beneficial to the client’s case before beginning a search for the appropriate expert. An expert may be needed when the facts of the case are not easily understood by a lay person or when a judge is not well-versed in the subject matter. In some cases, an expert’s testimony itself can help build the facts of a case, such as when the existing information is not discernable without expert interpretation. Lastly, some experts may never see the inside of a courtroom. That is, an expert may be retained by a party to be a consultant who can lend technical or economic expertise or suggest other important factual issues to determine before trial.

If, after consideration, an attorney determines that an expert witness is needed, there are three general sources to turn to in finding an expert. First, academia offers a setting where people with great expertise on an array of subjects is concentrated. Professors and researchers also lend a level of neutrality to trial proceedings. Second, practitioners with extensive experience in a particular industry, such as doctors, are also in high demand because of their hands-on experience. Third, there are consulting firms dedicated to helping attorneys find the right expert witness for a specific case.

The Pittman Firm is committed to helping those who have suffered from medical injuries and defective products obtain justice and appropriate compensation. Please call us today so that we can evaluate your case and determine a plan to meet your legal needs.

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