In civil litigation expert witnesses can be an essential source of information for litigants, judges, and juries. The role of an expert witness is to “assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or determine a fact in issue.” Common examples that come up in personal injury cases include testimony from an engineer about the design of a defective product, from a physician about a complex medical condition, or from an accountant about complicated damages questions. To qualify as an expert a person must have specialized training and expertise, and as such they typically charge a high price for their services.
Just how much an expert witness may “cost” will depend on the individual expert and how much work they must do in support of the litigation. The Expert Institute (a witness clearing house) offers a “calculator” tool that presents national averages and, sometimes, state-specific information about how much experts in different fields typically demand. Their approach divides fees into three components: the initial review fee, the deposition fee, and the court fee. This can be a helpful way to examine how costs work:
- Initial reviews. For an expert witness’s testimony to hold up under adversarial scrutiny it needs to be based on a rigorous analysis using well-established, objective standards. The initial review phase of an expert witness engagement typically involves providing the witness with information about the case and answering questions to help them assess the facts. At this phase a witness may reach a conclusion that isn’t helpful to the case—after all, the expert is there to provide a neutral opinion, even though a party to the litigation is paying for his or her services with a particular goal in mind. The complexity of an initial review can be very high in cases where the expert needs to conduct research or physical exams.
- Depositions. Expert witnesses don’t necessarily need to testify in person in a courtroom. A deposition is essentially a formal pretrial questions-and-answers session where the witness responds to questions (interrogatories) by attorneys for both sides in the litigation. Preparing for a deposition can require the witness to prepare exhibits, compile references, and so forth. Depositions can be as short as a couple hours to as long as several days, depending on the complexity of the case and the topics at issue.
- Court fee. Few personal injury cases actually go to trial, so it’s unlikely that an expert witness will need to personally appear in court. Still, when they do experts are entitled to charge a higher than normal fee.
According to the Expert Institute, the range of hourly fees varies dramatically according to the type of expert. Hourly rates range from about $190 for an initial review by a nursing expert to over $1,000 for medical specialists. Cases that involve really complex medical issues often generate high expert fees.
For plaintiffs the important thing to remember is that personal injury attorneys will include the fees they expect to pay expert witnesses into their assessments of the case. When a plaintiff prevails in a case (whether in settlement or at trial) the witnesses will be compensated by the law firm from the compensation award. A plaintiff facing a case that will require expert testimony needs to ask their attorney early on how witnesses will be paid. Attorneys can structure engagements in a number of ways. Clients may be required to pay expenses, which often includes witness fees, if the litigation doesn’t go well or the client decides to drop the suit.
For more than 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has represented clients in personal injury cases. Our experience helps us evaluate the need for expert testimony so we can give clients a fair assessment of the potential costs and final recovery they should expect. To receive a free attorney consultation about your case, call us at 702-388-4476, or ask us to call you through our contact page.