An expert witness is a person permitted by a judge to give opinions at trial. Most witnesses are usually only permitted to testify only about facts – what they saw or heard or otherwise have personal knowledge of. (There are certain exceptions to this rule.)
But experts have specialized knowledge, training or experience and thus have the right to give an opinion about some issue in a case. The judge determines whether a person who is offered to give expert testimony has the qualifications to be recognized as an expert, and the jury determines what weight to give to the expert’s testimony.
For example, in a Tennessee medical malpractice case expert testimony is almost always necessary to prove that the health care provider did not comply with the recognized standard of professional practice in the community where the patient was injured (or in similar communities) and that the injury (or death) occurred as a result of that error. The patient’s lawyer has the responsibility to locate and employ a qualified expert and the judge has the responsibility to ensure that the expert is qualified to give an opinion. The failure of a patient to have a proper expert in a medical malpractice case will almost always result in a loss of the case. (There are very rare exceptions to this rule. Only an experienced Tennessee medical malpractice attorney will understand exactly when it is possible to avoid the use of an expert witness on one or more issues in a medical malpractice case.)
Not only doctors can serve as expert witnesses. A person with the requisite level of expertise in virtually any field of specialized knowledge can serve as an expert. In my law practice, I have used engineers, attorneys, doctors, real estate appraisers, business valuation professionals, accountants, economists, accident reconstructionists, life care planners, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and many other types of experts.
I have also used experts in rather unusual circumstances. For example, almost 30 years ago I employed a bartender to serve as an expert in a trial to help the jury understand that no reasonable bar operator would permit flaming alcoholic drinks to be served in a restaurant open to the public. (My client was burned by a flaming drink in a Ruby Tuesday’ restaurant.) I also used an expert in pecans (that’s right, pecans) to prove that damage to several tons of stored pecans must have occurred before they were stored at my client’s warehouse (because my client kept the warehouse at a tempature and humidity level where it would have been highly unlikely for the nuts to sprout and rot).
Expert witness testimony is a part of almost every personal injury and wrongful death trial (and many other types of trials as well). For example, in car and truck accident cases a doctor usually gives an expert opinion that the injured person’s injuries were caused in the wreck. The doctor may give an opinion about the the future impact of the injury on the injury on the life of injured person. He or she will often testify about the necessity of medical treatment and the reasonableness of the medical bills. In a wrongful death case arising from a truck or car wreck a doctor will testify about the cause of death and whether any pain was experienced between the time of the injury and the date and time of death. The failure to have a qualified expert or to properly prepare that expert can result in restrictions on the amount of damages that can be recovered in the case and in fact can result in an otherwise valid case being lost.
If you need a Tennessee injury lawyer make sure you employ one who has sufficient experience and expertise to understand (a) whether expert testimony is necessary; (b) what type(s) of experts are needed; (c) how to find a qualified expert; (d) how to prepare that expert for trial; and (e) how to examine that expert at trial. How do you find such a lawyer? Look at our our legal guide "Understanding How to Select a Lawyer in a Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Case."