Both lay and expert witnesses can play an important role in any Clearwater personal injury case. Depending on whether or not the at-fault party's insurance company is disputing liability or injury in a case, these witnesses can be extremely helpful when it comes to proving the defendant's breach of the applicable duty of care, the extent, and amount of the plaintiff's damages.
Generally speaking, there are two types of witnesses who can testify at trial in a Clearwater personal injury case:
- Lay Witnesses and Expert Witness
Lay Witness Testimony vs Expert Witness Testimony
Lay witnesses are non-experts and are usually individuals who were eyewitnesses to the accident scene. In a car accident case—especially in cases where an insurance company is disputing liability (or fault)—lay witnesses can testify about:
- the speeds and directions of vehicles
- temperature and weather conditions at the scene
- traffic conditions at the scene
- lane markings
- visibility conditions
- observations made at the scene
- statements that were made by either the plaintiff or the defendant at the scene
- and traffic control devices at the scene, such as traffic lights or stop signs.
In a disputed liability case, the testimony of a lay witness can be very helpful to the injured plaintiff when it comes to proving who was at fault for the accident.
What is an expert witness?
Expert witnesses are professionals who probably did not actually see the accident, but who possess some form of specialized knowledge, training, education, or experience about the subject matter that they can present to back up a claim. The lawyer for the party who plans to call the expert witness at trial will normally have to name any potential experts far in advance of the trial date and qualify the witness as an expert in court.
In car, truck, pedestrian, and motorcycle accident cases, the most common expert witnesses are health care providers (such as doctors), medical specialists, accident reconstructionists, economists, and vocational rehabilitation experts.
Expert witness testimony is especially important in cases where there were no eyewitnesses present at the accident scene. Experts can draw conclusions about how the accident happened and can develop physical and computer models to present to a jury at trial. Their testimony is an integral component of successfully proving liability and damages in Clearwater personal injury cases.
The applicable court rules governing witness testimony (both lay and expert) can be found in the Florida Evidence Code, which is applicable to both civil and criminal cases.
Types of Expert WitnessesThe type of accident and injury involved in a case determines the type of expert witness needed. Because there is such a diverse amount of factors involved in personal inquiry cases, there many different types of expert witnesses available. However, there are a few that are used most often which are detailed below.
Economists and Vocational Rehabilitation Experts
In cases where an injured plaintiff misses time from work as a direct result of the accident and subsequent injuries, the plaintiff may be entitled to lost wage compensation. In some cases—especially when the plaintiff had an irregular work schedule or fluctuating wages—an economist may be helpful in calculating the amount of the plaintiff's lost wages and damages, including potential future lost wages.
A vocational rehabilitation expert may be able to testify about the plaintiff's loss of earning capacity, or the plaintiff's inability to hold the same job—or any job—in the future, as a direct and proximate result of the injuries sustained in the accident.
First RespondersPolice officers, firefighters, and EMTs can make excellent expert witnesses since they were at the scene of the accident and have expert knowledge on the subject. Oftentimes their testimony can be used to help reconstruct an accident or to corroborate injuries, depending on their knowledge, training, skills, and experience in dealing with similar accidents. Sometimes first responders may have a limited ability to testify as an expert witness. This is because of some protections that are in place to protect police-civilian privilege. However, most of the situations which first responders testify about are allowed. For example, an EMT who provided medical treatment at the scene of an accident can be called as an expert witness to provide insight on he condition of the people involved in the accident.
In many personal injury accident cases, expert witness testimony is crucial to uncovering the who, what, when, where, why, and how surrounding the accident.
When liability is in dispute, a certified accident reconstructionist may be able to shed some light on how the accident happened and who was to blame for causing it.
Accident reconstructionists have specialized knowledge, training, and experience, and can approach an accident—particularly one involving a motor vehicle—from a purely scientific perspective. Accident reconstructionists can use their scientific knowledge and expertise to calculate some or all of the following:
- Vehicle speeds
- Vehicle directions
- Vehicle locations
- Vehicle momentums and stopping distances
Healthcare providers can testify about the cause, nature, and extent of an injured plaintiff's medical conditions and injuries following an accident. They can also testify about permanent injuries and damages which the plaintiff sustained as a direct and proximate result of the accident—and whether or not the plaintiff will likely require any medical procedures in the future, such as injections or surgeries.
To the extent the injured plaintiff had prior injuries or degenerative changes that showed up on imaging studies (such as x-rays and MRIs), experts can testify that in their opinion, the subject accident—and not prior accidents, injuries, or preexisting medical conditions—is the primary source of the injured plaintiff's current symptoms, injuries, and damages. Moreover, these experts may be able to testify that the subject accident exacerbated any preexisting symptoms or injuries and made them worse.
Phone Records SpecialistDistracted driving is a becoming a bigger and bigger problem on the roads, especially in Florida. Because of this, cell phone records are more commonly being used in personal injury cases to help prove whether or not a driver was using their cellphone at the time of the accident. These expert witnesses' testimony involves a detailed look at phone records, as the name implies, in order to assemble a timeline of phone use that can then be matched with a timeline of the accident. This testimony is often most valuable in situations of liability.
Commercial Truck Accident ExpertsIn cases that involve semi trucks or other large vehicles, there is often a new set of circumstances to consider that don't come into play with regular passenger vehicles. Because of these specific regulations concerning the drivers, their vehicles, and the roads, special experts often need to be consulted. The most common three are Department of Transportation (DOT) experts who specialize in regulations and standards, maintenance experts who specialize in how big trucks are maintained, and ECM (electronic control module) and EDR (event data recorder) specialist who can interpret the on-board recording devices that many large trucks have.
Other Expert WitnessesBecause there are so many different types of accidents and injuries, there are nearly as many expert witnesses that could be used in a Clearwater personal injury case. Just a few of the other experts are: forensic toxicologist, orthopedic specialist, neurologist, medical examiner, pain management specialist, life care planner, and sports injury specialist.
Contact a Clearwater Personal Injury Lawyer Today for a Free Initial Consultation and Case Evaluation
Depending on the facts and circumstances, personal injury cases—including those involving car, truck, pedestrian, and slip and fall accidents—can be difficult to prove. Witness testimony (both lay and expert) is oftentimes necessary for the injured plaintiff to maximize the settlement or verdict value of their case.
An experienced Clearwater personal injury lawyer will be able to interview potential witnesses, retain the necessary experts, and elicit the expert testimony you need in order to maximize the value of your case.