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The Role of an Expert Witness: Filling Gaps in the Narrative

Expert witness role.

The Role of an Expert Witness: Filling Gaps in the Narrative

Unless you have experience with litigation and the legal field, you probably think of a court case revolving around the judge, jury, each side’s participants, and the legal teams for each side. That is the core of a functioning courtroom, but there’s a very special role that needs to be filled in most situations, as well. 


In fact, this special role is one of the most important roles in many cases, and it often makes the difference between a case won and a case lost. 


We’re talking about expert witnesses. 


This game-changing legal role is capable of making or breaking your case, and if you’re not familiar with what an expert witness does, why they do it, and the effects that can produce, you’ll be behind the curve in a legal sense. 


Here’s a complete breakdown of the expert witness’s role in a case. 


What is an Expert Witness? 


Before we dive into the expert witness’s role and what they do for a legal team, you need to know the basics of what one is. 


An expert witness is a witness who usually isn’t involved in the events that triggered the case in question, but they have some sort of expert-level knowledge that is relevant to the case. 


The best example of this would be a doctor coming and providing information regarding an injury. We’ll cover this more in-depth shortly. 


What Makes an Expert Witness? 


As we said, an expert witness is an expert on a topic, but there are more guidelines than that. 


First and foremost, they’re almost never involved with the case. For example, using the doctor we talked about earlier, the expert witness doctor wouldn’t be the primary care provider of the plaintiff in an injury lawsuit. It would be a doctor with experience caring for the type of injury being debated in court, but the person wouldn’t be affiliated with anyone. 


There are exceptions to that, but we have more in-depth articles covering those exceptions. 


Then, there are expertise requirements. An expert witness usually has years of hands-on experience in the field, is a member of multiple high-profile groups and associations relevant to the field they’re in, and has quite a few accolades relevant to their field. 


An expert witness also only testifies based on their firsthand experiences in the vast majority of cases. 


What is the Role of an Expert Witness? 


Simply put, and our title probably gave this away, the role of an expert witness is to fill gaps in the narrative during a court case. Of course, that’s a bit more complicated when you dig deeper. 


1: Explaining Complex Topics to the Court


You can’t expect the courtroom to make a valid decision if its participants don’t fully understand the topic being debated. 


Primarily, the judge and the jury must know every possible detail that might be relevant, and neither of those entities can possibly know everything there is to know about every complex topic. 


Let’s use the doctor’s example again during an injury lawsuit. 


The jury is comprised of random people. Someone might be a doctor, but it’s extremely unlikely that all of the jury members are experienced medical personnel. You can’t expect a construction worker, fast food worker, accountant, etc to understand the deeper medical implications of a severely broken limb or other common lawsuit-causing injury. 


The expert witness will provide context and in-depth professional explanations in situations like that.


This helps the judge and jury make better decisions that are reflective of the just and fair nature of our legal system, and without it, the wrong decision would be made in many cases every day. 


2: Providing Context and Opinions to Fill the Narrative


Obviously, either side of a case has a narrative it wants to push. That’s every type of debate or argument, and there’s no getting around it. However, in the courtroom, the goal is to come to a fair conclusion and provide justice. 


Thus, an expert witness is meant to fill the gaps in the narratives presented to the court


Again, let’s use the doctor example. 


Let’s say that the plaintiff is trying to say that their basic compound fracture has completely ruined their life, and they haven’t been able to work for three years because of it. 


However, everyone who has broken a bone knows that is a bit exaggerated in the majority of situations. As such, the defense might bring in an expert witness who will use their first-hand experience in the medical field to give insight into whether or not that is a realistic narrative, and they’ll provide information about how long even the worst breaks take to heal, when basic activities can be restarted, and the impact that such injuries have on someone’s life. 


The reverse is true as well. Maybe in the same situation, the defense is claiming that the injury isn’t that bad, and the plaintiff is just trying to get a paycheck. However, the plaintiff genuinely has missed months of work, went through a ton of pain, and is being very honest about the extent of their injuries. The plaintiff’s team might pull in an expert witness to provide the same information to show that the injury is serious and that the lawsuit is warranted. 


This is the most general goal of an expert witness. When things don’t make sense, they provide professional insight that adds context and understanding. 


3: Provide Missing Information


This ties into the other two categories we’ve touched on, but sometimes, information is missing from the narrative a team is trying to push. Whether that’s from intentional omission, or it’s just a genuine accident. 


An expert witness can help make that information known so its omission doesn’t affect the case. 


For example, let’s say our plaintiff from the previous case hasn’t described the actual injury properly. They have a compound fracture that requires surgical repair, months of physical therapy, and more. They haven’t disclosed anything about the physical therapy bit, and they are failing to mention that the lack of physical therapy could have prolonged their symptoms and problems far longer than necessary and at no fault of the defendant. 


Now, the expert witness plugs in that key information, and the defendant goes from losing due to jury sympathy to probably dealing with far fewer consequences if any at all.

Witness expert.

Are Expert Witnesses Biased? 


Looking at our descriptions of expert witnesses and what they do, you probably think that they behave just like any other witness. Well, they don’t. 


An expert witness is a powerful legal tool, and there are very strict rules surrounding an expert witness’s use. 


Of course, you can never coerce a normal witness into saying what you want, but with an expert witness it goes even deeper than that, and the room for error is a lot smaller. 


First and foremost, you have no control over what an expert witness says in the courtroom. Their testimony is 100% based on facts from their hands-on experience in the field. You can’t persuade them to see things your way, have them omit anything that might look bad, or anything else. 


Then, they also can’t provide information that they haven’t gathered from their professional experience. This includes things that might have happened to their peers, stories from the field they’re in that aren’t directly attached to them and their experience, and similar things. 


Finally, there is no speculation or opinions allowed in an expert witness’s testimony. For example, they can’t approach the stand and speculate on the injury we talked about earlier. They can only provide examples from their career along with verified medical information. 


This means that expert witnesses can’t be biased toward or against your team. They’re so limited that they are solely a neutral addition to your legal team and the court process. 


This can be both good for your team and bad for it. Sometimes, it can even be a double-edged sword. 


How Do You Get an Expert Witness to Fill the Narrative Gaps? 


So, an expert witness is crucial to most cases and has the power to completely turn your case around, but your witness can’t be involved in the events that caused the case, coached to provide certain information, or biased and opinionated. 


So, how do you hire one that’s actually helpful? 


There are a few steps to take. 


1: Know the Goal Your Team Has for the Expert Witness


Before you can do any of the things we’ll be talking about, you need to know why you’re even hiring the witness. What part of your argument are you trying to enhance, or what part of your opponent’s argument are you trying to debunk? 


You need to know the specific goal you’re trying to achieve


Again, we’ll use the injury lawsuit example. Let’s say you want to prove that the defendant’s claim isn’t realistic. You need to prove to the court that 3 years of downtime for a broken leg isn’t normal or practical, and even if it is true, it’s likely due to neglecting physical therapy recommendations. 


That would be your goal that you will base the following tips on. 


2: Interview Experts to Find One Who Honestly Shares Your View


You’ll need to interview several expert witnesses to find the right one, and with each interview, there are some basics you need to cover. 


Obviously, you need to verify that they’re qualified to be an expert witness. That includes checking their qualifications against the list we provided earlier. 


However, you also need to explain the case to them in a neutral fashion with just the facts, and then have them provide an example of what their testimony would be. What you need to look for is whether their point of view aligns with your goal or not. If the expert witness agrees that a broken leg can easily take 3 years to heal, you’ll want to go with another option or change your strategy. If they are describing a point of view that aligns with your goal, you’re almost ready to get them on board. 


3: Weigh the Pros and Cons


It’s a possibility, and actually likely, that not everything an expert witness thinks or says is going to align with your entire case. 


When interviewing an expert witness, it’s crucial to weigh any potential negative points in their testimony against the impact of the positive points. 


For example, let’s say you’re using an expert witness to prove that your client’s 3-year-long broken leg problem is, in fact, genuine. The witness does understand that it’s possible due to tissue and nerve damage, along with the impact of the surgery to fix the leg, but the witness also states that physical therapy would have made a big difference in how long the injury has impacted the plaintiff and the extent of the long-term damage. 


In that situation, you can’t tell the doctor to omit that if asked, and the opposing team will likely ask that question. Is it worth risking the implication that your client made their situation far worse, and thus, the defendant is not entirely responsible, or should you look at a different strategy? 


This is a crucial part of hiring an expert witness if you don’t want to implode your case. 


Getting Help Hiring an Expert Witness and Navigating the Complex Legal Process in the Modern Era


Even if you fully understand what an expert witness is and how to use one effectively, it’s easy to hire the wrong witness, waste resources hiring one when it’s not necessary, and otherwise make the wrong move


In a lot of cases, you could use a bit of guidance, along with help finding the right expert witness and weighing any pros and cons that hiring them might provide. 


That’s where Litigation Legal Insight comes in. 


We provide comprehensive consultation services for those in the legal field or dealing with a litigation situation, and we can help you navigate the complex nature of litigation. 


Contact us, today.