The vast majority of auto negligence cases reach settlement far before a matter is noticed for trial. However, when the insurance company does not settle in a manner that will suffice the Plaintiff, the parties may be forced to proceed to trial. The problem with proceeding to trial then becomes that the ultimate decision resides in the hands of the jury. As such, it is crucial for jury members to enter deliberations with a full understanding of precisely how an individual came to be injured, and perhaps more importantly, come up with a just and reasonable compensation for the injured party.
Many trial attorneys choose to rely on testimony of the injured party’s treating physician as the primary evidence establishing the existence of injury, and therefore, necessity of compensation. However, an experienced trial attorney knows that opposing counsel is almost certain to present the jury with a defense expert witness testimony. Defense might use experts in various disciplines, including accident reconstruction experts, human factor experts, economists and medical expert witnesses. Consequently, the jury may be left to consider contradictory information amongst evidence that already may be difficult to comprehend.
Because the Plaintiff’s side of auto negligence cases typically involves contingency agreements, matters that fail to reach settlement force attorneys to evaluate the potential loss that may result, in the event that a jury does not reach a favorable verdict. Although this evaluation considers costs already incurred, the additional costs associated with litigation require an especially difficult assessment. Consequently, attorneys are often presented with the dilemma of determining whether to proceed to trial utilizing a minimal expense approach, or to expend more, in anticipation of a higher verdict. Either decision is a gamble. As such, the more appropriate risk assessment may extend beyond a cost-analysis approach. Through consideration of the evidentiary value of expert testimony, from the perspective of the jury, you may find the value of expert testimony often far exceeds the actual costs.
Despite careful explanation, jurors might confuse issues of liability and damages, and are then subsequently presented with detailed jury instructions that may not clearly address matters of fault and apportionment, while separately addressing damage matters in a further drawn out method. Some jurors may reach deliberation with a set award amount, and subsequently conform this amount to adhere to the guidelines and difficult calculation procedures presented in the jury instructions. There also exists the situation when jury instructions fail to provide adequate guidance, and the juror must then conceptualize a determinate amount. In any event, a framework for their determinative verdict, must be an amount which is ascertainable, calculable, and quantifiable—TO THE JUROR! In cases where the sole testimony presented is from a treating physician stating that the Plaintiff deserves the amount demanded, and the contradictory evidence from Defense’s expert witness stating that the Plaintiff deserves a lesser amount, a juror may choose to ‘split the baby.’ But what if the juror was presented with corroborating testimony, from an economic damages expert witness, whose testimony further supports Plaintiff’s demand? An economics expert witness can quantify the loss wages and economic damages associated with the injuries involved in a way that the jury understands. Plaintiff’s counsel can also consider hiring a medical expert witness to offer a second opinion on the extent of the physical injuries involved. Most jurors will take into consideration that a second medical expert supports the counsel’s position. On a side note, an experienced counsel should ask the expert witness to thoroughly review the case. A good attorney will confirm with the expert witness on whether or not he or she can indeed support the claim prior to deposition and trial.
The potential value of additional expert testimony provided by one side appears evident. Through careful examination of the beneficial value of expert testimony, from the juror’s perspective, attorneys will be better equipped to access litigation related expenses.
By: Alicia McKnight, J.D.