The term “expert” is heard frequently in a broad variety of contexts. People can, and do, claim to be experts at almost everything, from riding a horse to juggling knives to performing surgery. And while most know what the word “expert” means in general, it is a term of art in American legal jurisprudence.
Some people have seen real-life expert witnesses first-hand, while serving as jury members or in their own court cases. Others have seen only fictional representations of legal experts, either in television shows or movies. In this article, we’ll separate fact from fiction and explain why you may need an expert in your Oregon lawsuit.
Reasons to Consider the Use of an Expert in a Legal Action
There are a variety of reasons to use an expert in litigation. Below, we’ll discuss two of the most common.
The subject matter of some lawsuits can be quite complex. In these instances, a party and his or her attorney may need the knowledge of an expert to properly evaluate whether a case should be pursued and the chances of winning if it is pursued. This is true in both civil and criminal cases.
For example, law enforcement officers and prosecutors in criminal cases sometimes need help from various experts to determine how a crime was committed. We see this in true crime television shows when experts are used to analyze blood splatter, DNA, and gunshot trajectory, just to provide a few examples.
In civil cases, there is often a similar need to consult with an expert. For example, a medical patient may have a bad outcome from a surgery or other medical procedure. Consultation with another doctor can help determine if medical malpractice occurred, so the attorney may enlist the advice of a medical expert.
Similarly, an investigation into a semi-truck accident that caused personal injuries may necessitate consultation with an expert on the mechanical performance of the semi-truck or its parts, such as the braking system.
Consultation with an expert can also help the attorney prepare for cross-examination of the opposing party’s expert.
2. Trial Testimony
Sometimes the issues in a case are complicated enough that a jury may not understand them without the help of experts. 2017 Oregon Revised Statutes 40.410 (Rule 702) provides the rule on when an expert witness can testify at trial. Specifically, the rule states:
“If scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.”
Thus, when an issue is complicated and difficult to understand, an expert witness can be used. For example, in a medical malpractice case, an attorney would hire a medical expert for the court proceedings. This medical expert would be questioned and cross-examined during the trial in order to inform the jury’s understanding of the details of the case.
In some cases, the parties disagree over whether it is appropriate to use an expert witness. The parties also sometimes disagree on whether a particular person is qualified to be an expert. In these cases, the lawyers for the parties make arguments to the court and the judge will make the final decision.
In some states, and in federal court, any expert who will testify at trial must be disclosed to the opposing party, if requested. Therefore, the designation of an expert in those states, and in federal cases, can have strategic implications.
However, in Oregon state court cases, Oregon law generally does not require such disclosure. The Oregon Supreme Court has addressed this issue in a number of cases, including Ransom v. Radiology Specialists of the Northwest.
An experienced trial lawyer can help navigate these issues.
Call with Questions
Personal injury lawsuits can be complex, and determining who is at fault for your injuries may require a medical expert for court, the settlement, or even just an initial consultation.
Other types of experts, such as mechanics, manufacturers, scientists, and more may be required depending on how your injuries were caused – e.g., by car accident, product liability, or exposure to harmful substances like asbestos. These are just a few examples of the expert knowledge that may be useful in a personal injury case. Experienced attorneys have the knowledge and resources to obtain expert testimony if necessary.
If you have suffered personal injury due to the negligence of another, you likely will have many questions. The experienced Oregon personal injury lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield will be happy to answer them for you. Please give us a call. We know that holding wrongdoers accountable for their wrongful actions is essential to a safe society.