When you hire a California personal injury lawyer, you have a right to expect that your law firm will work hard to achieve the best result. Sometimes that means teaming with experts. In many cases, experts serve as consultants who provide information that your attorney will need to maximize your personal injury settlement. In cases that do not settle, the experts may be called upon to testify as witnesses during your personal injury trial.
Not every case requires an expert. Car accidents that do not result in catastrophic injuries can usually be settled without retaining an expert witness. In some cases, however, including most cases that go to trial, expert evidence is vital. Here’s an overview of how experts might be used in your case.
Liability experts – car accidents
A liability expert is someone with specialized knowledge who helps you prove that a negligent party was responsible for your injury. For example, suppose that an oncoming driver crossed the center line and collided with your car. The crash might send both cars spinning off in different directions. By the time they come to rest, it might not be clear whether the collision occurred in your lane or in the other driver’s lane. If the other driver denies crossing the center line, you may need expert assistance to prove that the accident was the other driver’s fault.
Accident reconstruction engineers combine evidence found at the accident scene with principles of physics to determine how an accident occurred. They usually examine the site of the accident, looking for gouges in the pavement and skid marks. They may inspect the vehicles involved to find paint transfers and the location of impact damage, as well as characteristics of the car itself (including whether the cruise control had been activated and the direction in which wheels were turned). They will look at photographs taken at the scene and diagrams drawn by investigating police officers. From measurements shown on those diagrams and other physical evidence, accident reconstruction engineers are able to determine where the vehicles were located when the collision occurred.
Accident reconstruction experts can also help collision victims resolve other disputed issues, including the speed at which vehicles were traveling at the moment of impact, whether road conditions contributed to the accident, and the amount of time that a driver would have had to react to a perceived hazard. When newer model cars are involved, the expert may be able to download data from the car’s onboard event recorder to obtain more precise data about speed of travel, the application of brakes, and other important facts.
Liability experts – defective products
Engineers also play an important role in product liability cases. Engineers can determine whether a dangerous product was based on an unsafe design, whether it was constructed with faulty materials, and whether it was assembled carelessly. Specialists in vehicle crashworthiness can determine whether a vehicle’s occupant would have escaped death or serious injury if the vehicle had been designed or built differently. Experts in tire design and manufacturing can explain whether an accident was caused by a preventable tire failure.
Chemical engineers and toxicologists frequently provide expert evidence about products that lead to poisoning as the result of product consumption or environmental contamination. Fire prevention experts offer opinions about the flammability of clothing, bedding, and consumer products. Metallurgists, tool experts, electrical engineers, biomedical experts, and drug safety experts are among the professionals that personal injury attorneys will call upon to prove liability in cases involving injuries caused by products.
Other liability experts
In medical malpractice cases, experts are usually doctors or other healthcare providers with knowledge of a particular field (such as nursing, dentistry, or hospital administration). Experts testify about the standard of care that a reasonably prudent physician should follow. They also express opinions about whether those standards were followed in a particular case.
When injuries are caused because of hazardous conditions on the property of another person or business, experts can help the jury understand why the property was dangerous and how that danger could have been avoided. Experts in parking lot lighting, slippery flooring surfaces, stairway construction, fire safety, elevator maintenance, building design, and many other areas may be needed to testify in cases involving injuries that occur in stores, hotels, shopping centers, amusement parks, apartment buildings, and other unsafe locations.
Accident victims are entitled to compensation for their injuries, but how much should they receive? The answer depends on the severity of the injuries and the amount of their past and future financial losses. Experts help juries (and insurance adjusters) understand those losses.
Nearly every case that goes to trial will require the testimony of a doctor to explain the cause, nature, and severity of the accident victim’s injuries. Medical testimony usually comes from the accident victim’s treating physicians. In some cases, experts who have evaluated but not treated the victim might also be asked to express opinions about the need for future treatment, the impact of the injuries on the victim’s mental health, and other healthcare issues.
When an accident causes death or a long-lasting disability, economists will be asked to project the victim’s earnings over the number of years the victim would have received income if the accident had not occurred. Vocational experts may need to provide opinions about a disabled victim’s future employability and the need for vocational rehabilitation. Other experts might testify about the cost of coping with a disability, such as wheelchair purchases and renovating a home to make it accessible. In wrongful death cases, an expert may be needed to calculate the value of the household services that the victim would have provided to surviving family members.
Choosing the right experts requires careful consideration. Personal injury lawyers may turn to experts they have worked with in the past or they may search for experts who are uniquely qualified to answer the novel questions that arise in a particular case. Choosing the right personal injury firm is the key to finding experts who can help injury victims achieve justice while maximizing their financial recovery.