If you have ever watched Law & Order or any of the other courtroom shows, you've seen the prosecutors and defense attorneys call expert witnesses to the stand. Your lawyer may choose to call an expert witness in your own personal injury case. So, what is an expert witness, and what relevance do they have to legal proceedings?
Role of an Expert Witness
Unlike most witnesses, an expert witness has no direct involvement in a case. They are called on to give an educated opinion on a specific element of a case based on the information they are given.
A witness is qualified as an "expert" when they have extensive knowledge or experience in a particular area outside what a layman would normally be expected to know. Their testimony provides clarification on aspects of the case that may be in dispute or cannot be resolved by the facts.
Characteristics of Expert Evidence
- Lay witnesses are restricted to testimony of facts regarding what they have seen and heard. They're prohibited from offering opinions or interpretations concerning those facts. Expert witnesses, on the other hand, are called for the express purpose of giving opinions.
- Expert evidence is used to give the court additional information needed to reach a fair and equitable resolution. For example, a mechanic may testify about possible causes of automotive failure.
- As with all parties who appear in court, an expert witness has a duty to remain truthful and impartial. Their appearance is for the purpose of testimony only. They do not search for evidence, give advice or advocate a case in any manner.
How is an Expert Witness Compensated?
Expert witnesses are paid for their services regardless of the case's outcome. Most are compensated on an hourly basis for studying the facts of the case, forming an opinion, preparing a report and testifying. In some cases, expert witnesses may receive a flat fee for their service. Compensation is not given for the opinion itself and whether or not it helps the side engaging the expert witness.
A case can be difficult to resolve based solely on the facts. Expert witnesses provide valuable assistance that help shed light on the circumstances and lead to a just resolution.
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