Overview of the Expert Witness Industry

According to the Wikepedia, an expert witness is a witness, who by virtue of education, training, skill, or experience, is believed to have knowledge in a particular subject beyond that of the average person, sufficient that others may officially (and legally) rely upon the witness's specialized (scientific, technical or other) opinion about an evidence or fact issue within the scope of their expertise, referred to as the expert opinion, as an assistance to the fact-finder. Expert witnesses may also deliver expert evidence about facts from the domain of their expertise.

Expert Witnesses in the Real World

Typically, experts are relied on by both sides to a dispute for opinions on severity of injury, degree of insanity, cause of failure in a machine or other device, loss of earnings, care costs and the like. The tribunal itself, or the judge, can in some systems call upon experts to technically evaluate a certain fact or action, in order to provide the court with a complete knowledge on the fact/action it is judging. The expertise has the legal value of an acquisition of data. The results of these experts are then compared to those by the experts of the parties. The expert has heavy responsibility, especially in penal trials, and perjury by an expert is a severely punished crime in most countries. The use of expert witnesses is sometimes criticized in the United States because in civil trials, they are often used by both sides to advocate differing positions, and it is left up to a jury of laymen to decide which expert witness to believe. Sometimes one side has utilized an expert witness to provide fraudulent or junk science testimony in order to convince a jury. In England and Wales, under the Civil Procedure Rules 1998, an expert witness is required to be independent and address his or her report to the Court. A witness may be jointly instructed by both sides if the parties agree to this. Under the CPR, expert witnesses may also be instructed to produce a joint statement detailing points of agreement and disagreement to assist the court or tribunal. In most systems, the trial (or the procedure) can be suspended in order to allow the experts to study the case and produce their results.  The earliest known use of an expert witness in English law came in 1782, when a court that was hearing litigation relating to the silting-up of Wells harbour in Norfolk accepted evidence from a leading civil engineer, John Smeaton. This decision by the court to accept Smeaton's evidence is widely cited as the root of modern rules on expert evidence.

Non-Testifying Litigation Support Consultants / Experts:

In the U.S., a party can hire experts to help him/her evaluate the case. For example, a car maker may hire an experienced mechanic to decide if its cars were built to specification. This kind of expert opinion will be protected from discovery. If the expert finds something that is against its client, the opposite party will not know it. This privilege is similar to the work product protected by the attorney/ client privilege.

Testifying Experts and Witnesses:

If the witness needs to testify in court, the privilege is no longer protected. The expert witness's identity and nearly all documents used to prepare the testimony will become discoverable. Usually an experienced lawyer will advise the expert not to take notes on documents because all of the notes will be available to the other party.  Although experts can testify in any case in which their expertise is relevant, criminal cases are more likely to use forensic scientists or forensic psychologists, whereas civil cases, such as personal injury, may use forensic accountants, employment consultants or care experts. Senior physicians, usually consultants or their equivalents are frequently used in both the civil and criminal courts.

Common Questions About Expert Witnesses:

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