In some fields, it’s easier to select an expert witness than in others. In licensed fields, such as law and medicine, the lawyer has the first question of a license in good standing. In other fields, where there is a terminal degree, this becomes a threshold question.
But what about the value of a career to one’s ability to become an expert witness?
More than one court has issued a written decision giving value to one’s career as the pivotal credential in the qualification of an expert witness. Court decisions cite to careers spanning more than 20-years with ease, and discuss shorter careers with distinction in the field as being equally important to assisting the court and the jury in their evaluations of complex evidence.
One area where this question appears is the accident reconstruction expert or the accident investigator. In these cases, there are any number of law enforcement personnel on the scene who conduct a factual investigation, potentially in conjunction with the preliminary assessment of associated criminal charges. The officer on the scene may have very limited training, but this is a fact witness that stops short of asking for the witness to be vaulted into the status of the expert witness.
However, an attorney may hire a retired law enforcement officer with a background in investigating accidents to serve as an expert witness. In this role, the expert witness may review all of the documents generated by law enforcement officers and may or may not go to the scene, physically inspect the automobiles, interview witnesses and review depositions and other discovery materials.
We live in a culture that values education, and this is an important factor in qualifying a witness as an expert witness. However, education is not the only factor a judge can and should consider. One’s career plays a vital role in elevating a witness to the status of an expert witness, and should not be overlooked by the attorney in either expert witness selection or presentation at trial.
By: Paloma A. Capanna, Attorney at Law