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What Makes Someone an Expert Witness

professions and trades

Simply having detailed knowledge about a given area of interest does not make someone an expert witness. State and federal rules of evidence, along with a long line of court opinions, have specifically delineated what qualifies someone to offer an expert opinion in a state or federal legal matter. Read on to learn what makes someone an expert witness, and contact a qualified medical expert with any additional questions.

Proper Area of Expert Opinion

As we’ve discussed before, not all types of issues are proper for expert opinions. Disputes over the facts–what happened when and where–must be resolved by testimony from witnesses with direct knowledge. Experts can be brought in to testify concerning areas about which the factfinders, whether judge or jury, may be confused, require clarification, or require technical or specialized knowledge to properly understand and apply the evidence before them.

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 702, which also serves as a model for may state court rules of evidence concerning experts, qualified experts may testify about matters within their expertise so long as:

A. the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact understand the evidence or determine a fact in issue;
B. the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
C. the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
D. the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

Expert opinion should, therefore, be limited to the types of issues that juries may not know about or understand without guidance, and which would be clarified with a proper expert. Experts should not testify about, for example, a party’s state of mind, or whether a person is likely to have been at a particular time and place. They may testify to explain what a set of programming code is meant to convey, what a proper medical professional would do in a given situation, the value of real estate, or whether a specific medical condition is likely to have certain effects.

Expert Qualifications and Experience

In order to testify as an expert, the witness must be properly qualified. The court will be the gatekeeper in determining both whether a designated witness is qualified generally and whether they are qualified to offer a specific opinion on the issue at bar. The expert must have a combination of education and training relevant to their field generally and the specific issue on which they are opining, as well as experience in the field. An orthopedic surgeon, for example, should not be testifying about whether a brain surgeon should have performed a different procedure.

When determining whether to qualify an expert, the court will take into account all of the following, as well as other relevant factors:

● Education in the field, including whether their degree is specialized
● Training in the field and on the specific issue
● Professional writing, such as published books and peer-reviewed journal articles
● Years of experience in the field and with the specific issue
● Prior testimonial experience

A general practitioner two years out of medical school may not be adequately qualified to testify about a specific medical issue in a matter, but a veteran surgeon with 20 years of neurosurgical experience and several publications concerning brain tumors is likely to be qualified to talk about tumor causation, proper surgical procedure, and the side effects of various treatments and procedures.

If you need a practiced, efficient, and effective expert witness in a personal injury, medical malpractice, or product liability case, contact the offices of Neurosurgery MedLegal Services, LLC, at 866-659-8051.

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