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
Expert witnesses can play an important role in civil litigation involving personal injury. Medical experts are often needed to provide underlying facts about the plaintiff’s injuries. An accountant’s testimony may be needed to establish a reliable figure of the plaintiff’s lost future earnings. An engineering expert may have useful insight into defects in a product’s design. Finding flaws in an expert witness’s testimony is a key component of litigation strategy for both sides in a dispute.
Nevada’s rules of evidence and expert testimony
Under NRS 50.275
, an expert witness can provide testimony based on his or her scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge in situations where such testimony will help the jury or judge understand a fact that is important to the case. The witness must be “qualified as an expert by special knowledge, skill, experience, training or education.” For example, a veterinarian with experience treating horse injuries may be qualified to offer testimony about an injury to a valuable horse, but probably isn’t qualified to testify about a person’s head trauma.
An expert is allowed to provide an opinion about complex topics, such as whether the plaintiff’s cancer might have been caused by chemicals present in the defendant’s building. An expert’s opinion can be based on facts made available to the expert in preparation for trial; the expert doesn’t need to base an opinion solely on information that is in evidence. NRS 50.285. A court can require an expert to disclose data and methods used to reach an opinion, and these pieces of information can also be required if they become the subject of the counterparty’s cross-examination. NRS 50.305.
There are specific types of expert testimony, such as that provided by a doctor about a medical issue, that are subject to specific guidelines. Absent specific rules, judges in Nevada state courts have “wide discretion” to evaluate expert witness testimony to determine whether it poses an undue risk of confusing the jury. Higgs v. Nevada
, 126 Nev. 1 (2010).
Casting doubt on an expert’s testimony
There are a number of common ways an expert’s testimony can be brought into question by an opposing attorney. Here are some examples:
- Examine the expert’s pretrial process for significant errors or omissions. If the expert’s opinion is based on faulty reasoning, the opinion itself may not be sufficiently reliable to be admitted into evidence.
- Raise questions about the expert’s qualifications to speak on the specific topic at issue. Even someone who holds advanced degrees in a specific field may not have the necessary experience to speak to the technical topics at issue in the case.
- Present a contrary expert opinion. Because the value of expert testimony can often be inconclusive, requiring the jury to weigh it relative to other pieces of evidence, the opposing side can benefit enormously by presenting another expert witness who holds a different opinion.
GGRM is a Las Vegas personal injury law firm
The law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has represented personal injury clients in the Las Vegas area for over 45 years. We work with expert witnesses whenever doing so will help our clients’ reach a favorable outcome. For a free attorney consultation about your case, please give us a call today at 702-388-4476. We can also be reached through our contacts page
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):
- 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.
- 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.
- 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