The Plaintiff’s Guide to the Role of Expert Witnesses in Trials

Witness on the stand.

Expert witnesses can be an invaluable asset to your legal team, especially when it comes to complex issues that require specialized knowledge beyond the average person’s understanding. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of expert witnesses and their role in trials.

First, it’s important to understand the roles of the different parties in a trial. Juries are fact-finders who review the facts presented to them to determine what happened and pass down a verdict. The judge informs the jury which laws apply to the evidence and instructs them on how to apply the law to the facts. Attorneys present evidence, question the evidence of the other side, and argue the facts within the scope of the law as set by the judge.

So, what role does an expert witness play in all this?

What Expert Witnesses Provide

In an ideal world, juries should be a cross-section of society, which means they may not have the necessary expertise to understand niche-but-relevant knowledge required to pass judgement . Expert witnesses provide testimony that educates the jury about how to interpret the facts as presented by the attorneys. For example, in a medical malpractice case, an expert witness in surgical procedures would testify regarding a surgeon’s decisions in certain circumstances. In a product liability case, an expert witness in manufacturing might describe what a normal quality assurance process would look like. These witnesses are also called "opinion witnesses," as their testimony is a matter of professional opinion rather than firsthand knowledge of the situation being tried.

To be qualified to testify as an expert witness, there are three requirements set forth in Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence:

  1. Their scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge is beyond the scope of the average person’s knowledge.
  2. Their scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the jury to understand the evidence or determine the facts.
  3. Their methodology is generally accepted in the relevant field.

It’s important to note that Pa.R.E. 702 differs from federal rules regarding expert witnesses, in that Pennsylvania specifically requires an expert to have knowledge beyond that of the "average layperson." Additionally, Pa.R.E. 702(c) applies the "general acceptance" test for admissibility.

Why Expert Witnesses Are Important

Expert witnesses are important for several reasons. They make it possible for juries to pass judgment accurately on complex issues; this is especially true in injury cases where experts help juries understand the scope of damage so they can make appropriate verdicts. Expert witnesses offer an objective understanding of the facts, which lends legitimacy and credibility to a jury’s decision. Furthermore, the use of an expert uncovers facts that a jury may not have even considered before.

When It Comes to Expertise, Attorney Experience Matters

Experienced attorneys understand when an expert witness will most effectively challenge a defendant’s case. For example, a defendant insurer who wants to avoid trial might try to get your case dismissed through some legal loophole. Having an expert witness early on can protect from these motions by establishing a compelling basis to take the case forward. Understanding what kind of expert witness will strengthen your case is a matter of attorney experience as well—particularly trial experience.

In conclusion, expert witnesses can be a game-changer in a legal case, providing critical specialized knowledge that can help juries understand complex issues. If your case is especially complex, our firm has experience turning complex cases into life-changing results for our clients.

Speak with HHR at (888) 498-3023 to discuss your legal options today.

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