The use of experts in personal injury cases is a very important and valuable weapon in a lawyer’s arsenal to pursue recovery aggressively on behalf of an injured client. While the costs of experts can be significant, those costs are often more than justified by an increased amount of recovery. From the time when we open a personal injury file, we continue to consider what expert testimony will be legally necessary to prove the claim at trial as well as whether hiring an expert will make handling the claim easier and more efficient.
Very often, we use medical experts who issue a written report offering opinions about the extent of the injuries and whether those injuries were caused by the defendant (e.g. negligent driver, negligent owner of land). In most cases, the medical expert is the injured client’s treating physician. If prepared well, such a report can be the impetus for a much higher recovery because the opposing attorney and/or insurance adjustor can easily understand and evaluate the nature and extent of the injuries and the risk of an unfavorable verdict if the case went to trial.
While not used as often, we also use experts to offer opinions about whether the defendant was negligent. We call them liability experts. For example, in a trip and fall case, we might retain an expert to offer an opinion that the defendant was negligent in maintaining the area where the injured client fell. If the defendant has failed to adhere to a reasonable standard of conduct in maintaining that area, the expert can spell out the negligent conduct in the report. However, in many cases, no such expert is necessary because the negligence of the defendant would be fairly obvious to the jury at trial.
Another type of expert we might use is one that addresses the amount of damages. Such an expert explains to the jury the nature and extent of damages suffered by the client as a result of his or her injuries. For instance, in a case involving fairly significant permanent injuries, we will commonly hire a specially qualified registered nurse to prepare a “life care plan” detailing the future medical related costs required to deal with the client’s injuries in the future. In conjunction with the life care plan, we might also use an expert economist or actuary to detail future lost wages and other economic damages. Because those future damages are calculated through the client’s expected work life, the dollar amounts can be very high and form the basis for a large recovery.
In the end, the judgment to use an expert is determined on a case-by-case basis. However, our experience in handling personal injury cases suggests that the costs to use experts are very often more than justified and reasonable, considering the potential recovery. On the other hand, expert reports can illustrate to the other side that a party has a strong case and is prepared to go to trial if necessary, and they frequently provide the basis for a very favorable negotiated settlement. If the matter does go to trial, the case can be effectively presented largely through expert testimony which reduces the burden on the client to testify at length about their own injuries and damages. Moreover, expert testimony might be legally required to prove the client’s case. We look to use experts anytime their involvement would provide a meaningful opportunity to increase the recovery by our clients.
— Curt Ward