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The Role of Expert Testimony in Personal Injury Cases

The Role of Expert Testimony in Personal Injury Cases

In some personal injury cases the cause of the plaintiff’s injury and the defendant’s liability for it can be fairly easy to explain and understand. Ordinarily no special training is needed to understand that a wet floor can cause someone to slip, or that a thrown rock can cause head wounds. But the story is more complicated in many cases. Could a particular chemical cause the plaintiff’s cancer? Was the defendant’s product properly engineered to prevent injury? Did the defendant physician comply with professional standards during surgery? Answering questions like these often requires the testimony of an expert witness.

Nevada’s standards for expert witnesses

The purpose of an expert witness is to allow the case’s trier of fact—the jury or judge—to reach an objective opinion about the significance of technical evidence presented at trial. To qualify as an expert witness in Nevada state court the individual and his or her testimony must meet three requirements (set out in NRS 50.275):

  1. Qualification. The witness must be qualified in the area of specialized knowledge to which the testimony pertains. Qualification may be established by a witness’s education or professional experience.
  2. Assistance. The witness’s expertise must be helpful to the triers of fact as they work to understand a piece of evidence or a disputed fact. Parties may object to specific elements of testimony if it only serves to confuse or distract from the main issue.
  3. Limited scope. The witness’s testimony must be limited only to the areas where the witness is qualified. For example, an engineer asked to offer an opinion about a defect in a ladder can’t also offer input on whether falling from a ladder could cause the defendant’s heart attack.

In some cases an expert’s testimony is a legally required component of a claim. For example, in a professional negligence case, where the defendant is a licensed professional such as a doctor, plaintiffs must submit a sworn affidavit signed by an expert witness who agrees that the defendant acted negligently.

Problems with expert witness testimony

Ideally, an expert witness presents an unbiased, professional opinion. Because experts usually are compensated for their time, serving in the role can become a lucrative source of income for some professionals. The corrupting role money can play in shaping an expert’s opinion raises legitimate concerns about the reliability of testimony, especially if the witness serves the same role again and again for a given party. For example, a witness who gets paid by an insurance company to opine about the cause of appliance fires may be prone to questionable bias in favor of the insurer. Parties who oppose such witnesses need to be prepared to expose the expert’s bias through careful questioning and potentially by presenting counterbalancing testimony.

In many cases two experts can legitimately disagree. A “battle of experts” can be the result, where the plaintiff’s expert supports one conclusion while the defendant’s expert expresses a different or even contradictory opinion. This is especially common in medical cases, where the science on a given topic is not well-settled. In cases like these the trier of fact can be faced with the difficult problem of needing to weigh the relative merits of each perspective.

GGRM is a Las Vegas personal injury law firm

For more than 45 years the attorneys at Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez have represented personal injury clients in the Las Vegas area. Where helpful to our clients we work with expert witnesses to develop strong cases for our clients. If you have been injured call us today for a free attorney consultation at 702-388-4476 or reach us through our contact page.