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When Might an Expert Witness be Needed in a Car Accident Case? 

Posted in Car Accidents on December 23, 2020

When someone injures you in a Louisiana car crash, the circumstances aren’t always crystal clear. Sometimes witnesses and police officers provide enough testimony to verify what happened. At other times, attorneys, insurers, and manufacturers require an expert to prove liability and damages. Because of the costs, experts usually become involved in high-value injury cases and only under certain circumstances.

Types of Expert Auto Accident Witnesses

These are just a few of the types of experts involved in assessing liability and damages due to car accidents.

Accident Reconstruction Expert

These expert witnesses often refer to themselves as Forensic Engineers. A reconstructionist evaluates vehicle damage, points of impact, accident scene measurements, human factors, vehicle speeds, and other data. They rely on their technical and biomechanical expertise. They often use 3-D imaging and digital technology to reach informed conclusions. Ultimately, they reconstruct an accident and accident scene and provide an opinion as to what happened.

Medical Expert

Medical experts confirm and explain a person’s injuries. They also provide a prognosis and project the injured person’s potential future disabilities. Depending on the person’s injuries, the expert may have a background in orthopedics, brain damage, organ damage, or another specialty. To eliminate conflicts and enhance witness credibility, attorneys and insurers don’t usually use medical experts who are involved in the injured person’s care.

Mechanical and Auto Engineer

When an accident involves an alleged defect, plaintiffs and defendants often hire an engineer to perform testing. Mechanical and auto engineers examine and test brake lines, tires, seat belts, electronics, and other vehicle systems. They provide expert opinions and testimony about alleged defects. If an expert performs destructive testing, it often prevents other parties from obtaining valid test results. Once an expert disassembles a vehicle or other device, it often ruins the structural integrity and eliminates any meaningful evidence.

Event Data Recorder Expert

In 2012, the US Transportation Code mandated Event Data Recorders for all newly manufactured vehicles. The device is similar to an airplane’s black box. It records a vehicle’s pre-accident activities such as steering wheel angle, safety device usage, vehicle acceleration, brake application, and other activities. EDRs usually record front-end collision-related activities. They also record a vehicle’s activity when airbags deploy.  EDR experts download and analyze the data to determine what happened just before an accident.

Economic Expert

When a person’s injuries cause long-term or lifelong disabilities, their attorneys often use an economic expert to assess their future financial losses. Economic experts evaluate current and future damages and provide a present-day value for settlement purposes.

Civil Engineer

Civil engineers provide expertise when an accident involves an allegedly defective road design, road, signal, signage, or other road-related issues.

Why do People Hire Expert Witnesses?

Expert witnesses rarely become involved in simple accidents. They are essential when a case has the potential for a high-dollar financial loss or gain. When a case has minor damage and injuries, the parties must evaluate the potential costs vs the potential gain. Cases that require expert witnesses usually involve certain issues.

  • Questionable liability
  • Catastrophic injuries
  • Alleged vehicle manufacturing defects
  • Road, signal, and sign defects

When liability is questionable

Even when liability is questionable, an injured plaintiff still has a legal right to recover damages. Under Louisiana’s pure comparative fault statute, LSA, CC §2323, an injured person can make a claim even if they are 99% at fault. When an injured person sustains disabling injuries, any settlement or lawsuit can involve high-dollar settlements or judgments. To maximize that potential, plaintiffs need an expert to help optimize their case against the other driver.

Insurers hire experts for opposite reasons. When a case has a high value, they understand that it will never go away. Regardless of their own liability, an injured person has the right to file a lawsuit. Even if their insured doesn’t believe he caused the accident, the liability insurer has a duty to defend him and protect his legal interests. Insurers conduct their own investigations. But if they must eventually defend a high dollar case, they often hire an accident reconstructionist to help them provide the best defense possible

When vehicle occupants sustain catastrophic injuries

For the same reasons explained above, plaintiff’s attorneys and insurers often seek expert input. When a plaintiff’s injuries are severe or catastrophic, both sides have a lot at stake. Neither plaintiff’s attorneys nor insurers hire experts when there’s minimal potential for damage recovery. Experts cost thousands of dollars to hire. They aren’t cost-efficient when an injury claim has a limited settlement value

Plaintiff’s attorneys use reconstruction experts to resolve accident causation and liability issues. Insurers sometimes hire expert witnesses as well. Again, it’s a cost-efficiency issue. Both rarely hire an expert when the accident is minor or the injuries inconsequential.

When a negligent driver alleges a vehicle defect

When a negligent driver blames his actions on a vehicle defect, both the negligent driver and the manufacturer call on experts to support their case. Plaintiffs don’t require an expert. They need only prove that the negligent driver injured him. Defendants and manufacturers use expert witnesses for different reasons.

Defendant: Even if a negligent driver feels certain that a defect contributed to an accident, his defense attorney will have to prove it to a judge or jury. Without expert witnesses, it’s often difficult to prove a vehicle defect case.

Manufacturer: Vehicle manufacturers have a lot to lose, so they rarely admit even known defects. They usually have access to expert witnesses that know and understand their products and their defense strategies. Vehicle manufacturers fight hard to defend against defect allegations. If they lose, it often affects more than just one case. When a negligent driver’s expert proves a vehicle defect, it often opens the door to a flood of additional claims. In addition to losing a lawsuit, a single claim can damage a company’s reputation, jeopardize future sales, and destroy customer relationships.

When a driver alleges a surface, signal, or sign defect

Louisiana has numerous construction areas that are difficult for vehicles to navigate. Construction crews dig up pavement and don’t correct it until the job is complete. Some intersections are so poorly designed, they contribute to accidents. When a driver alleges that a road-related defect caused an accident, the involved construction companies and/or governmental entities hire experts to support their defense. The vehicle driver’s insurance company won’t likely hire an expert unless the accident caused serious injuries.

About Expert Witnesses

The concern with expert witnesses is that they are rarely truly unbiased. Insurers, plaintiffs, manufacturers, and defendants all have preferred expert witnesses who cater to their particular requirements. They sometimes “shop” for expert witnesses who will provide a supportive opinion. Manufacturers often use experts who work for them exclusively.

Ultimately, it often comes down to which expert is a better witness. Who sounds more knowledgeable, more professional, or more personable?  Those who hire witnesses also review their resume’ or curriculum vitae to gauge their effectiveness in past cases.

Contact a Personal Injury Attorney

When you sustain injuries in a vehicle accident, a personal injury attorney works on your behalf.  Attorneys investigate your accident and deal with liability insurers. When necessary, attorneys hire expert witnesses to help you win your case. The Law Offices of John Redmann has offices in Gretna and Metairie, Louisiana. We’ve recovered millions for our injured clients, and we’d like the opportunity to help you.

To schedule a legal consultation, call us at 504-500-5000. Your first appointment is complimentary. You share information and learn more about your legal options. You don’t have to make any decisions until you’re ready.