Expert witnesses commonly give vital testimony in wrongful death cases. If you’ve had a loved one die and someone else is at fault, you may file a civil lawsuit against the party responsible for his or her death. Wrongful death lawsuits are a complicated and time-consuming process, but an experienced wrongful death lawsuit attorney can help you navigate the process and ensure you get the best possible settlement. One of the strategies your attorney may recommend is the use of expert witnesses in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Wrongful death lawsuits differ from personal injury lawsuits in a couple of ways. One difference between the two is the compensation available and awarded. Another big difference between them is that proving wrongful death, and the resulting damages, often comes with challenges. That is one of the major reasons why your wrongful death lawyer may recommend that you hire expert witnesses for your lawsuit.
Why Do You Need Expert Witnesses in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Expert witnesses are used throughout the process of a wrongful death lawsuit. Their usefulness begins with their ability to explain to you and to your attorney the reality of why your loved one has died and who or what is responsible for that death. They continue to be a vital tool in your arsenal during the preparation phase, providing specific questions for your attorney to ask during the deposition. They may be used to lend weight to your arguments during any settlement negotiations or arbitration. Finally, they show their most important use during the trial phase when they present their findings to the jury, or help to discredit or disprove testimony by witnesses for the defense.
Often, the difference between a wrongful death lawsuit filed, and a wrongful death lawsuit won is the preparation by and testimony of expert witnesses. Expert witnesses are masters of their respective professions and are able to speak with authority on the subject at hand. Expert witnesses will often be hired and consulted prior to depositions in order to specific questions they’d like your wrongful death attorney to ask. They may be able to help explain why your loved one was killed in a given situation or by a specific product.
There are two primary reasons to use expert witness testimony in a wrongful death lawsuit if it goes to trial. First, they help to establish that the defendant is responsible for the death of your loved one. Also, they can be and are often used, to determine the amount of compensation or damages you are entitled to.
Your expert witnesses will likely be the most helpful strategic piece of your wrongful death lawsuit. If your suit goes to trial, a jury will likely sympathize with your situation. However, they will require proof that the death was indeed the fault of the defendant. They also are able to help explain and assign a dollar value to the various aspects of how this wrongful death has negatively impacted you and your family.
What Kind of Expert Witnesses Do You Need in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A medical expert can be useful in many ways. They can determine if a doctor acted responsibly in the treatment of your loved one. They can also determine whether a medical device is a likely contributing factor to the death in question if it is the subject of the lawsuit. Likewise, they can be used to detail how and why the defendant’s actions or apathy caused the death of your family member. Another use for medical experts is to help determine the costs of your loved one’s final medical procedures. This will help your wrongful death attorney establish the amount of compensation you are due as damages.
An accident reconstructionist is able to look at the photos and evidence collected at the scene of an accident and make several determinations from it. They can measure skid marks to determine the approximate speed a car was traveling when the impact occurred. They can look at the debris pattern from an accident and give an educated opinion on which direction each vehicle was moving and at what speed, the impact was made. All of these factors can help determine who was at fault. The accident reconstructionist’s testimony can often be used in conjunction with your medical expert to paint an accurate picture of the event in question.
An expert witness who is an engineer may be useful to you because they can look at building plans or photos of sites like a collapsed building or bridge and determine failure points. They can determine whether an architect provided a faulty design, or a general contractor employed poor construction methods during the building process.
An experienced engineer, as an expert witness, will often be able to explain how a structure is designed, and why, in a way that is easy for a layman to understand. That can be especially important if your lawsuit goes to trial, as you can’t guarantee a jury will be selected who each understands the math and physics behind the structural design. Furthermore, if the design is indeed sound, your engineering expert witness will be able to direct attention to the construction methods and materials used by the general contractor, if the fault lies there.
Economic damage experts
An economic damage expert will be the person you rely upon to determine your loved one’s future earnings potential, or how much support you and your family have lost in addition to the life of your loved one. They can be used to help determine what would be considered a reasonable amount of car accident damages to be paid in a wrongful death lawsuit. Your economic damage expert will often work with the medical expert or accident reconstructionist’s recommendations to help determine this amount.
What Is a Deposition in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A deposition in a wrongful death lawsuit is a recorded meeting where the attorneys will question witnesses about the accident that caused the death of your loved one. It is an important step in the process of your wrongful death lawsuit.
The deposition will be held outside the courtroom, usually in an attorney’s office. Typically, there will be a court reporter present to record the proceedings. Lawyers from both sides will be present to interview sworn witnesses to the case in question. Sometimes, your attorney will be able to use statements made during the deposition to counter contradictory testimony during the trial.
Your attorney can depose any person who may have information pertinent to your case. They may subpoena some witnesses if necessary, which causes the court to compel the person to come to the appointed place and time, and participate in the deposition. Each deposition can take anywhere from one hour to several days, though such a lengthy deposition is unlikely. A subpoena may also be used to compel someone to provide information or documents related to the case, like security or traffic camera footage, or medical records from treating physicians.
Prior to a deposition
Prior to a deposition, if you are going to be questioned, your attorney is going to meet with you to prepare you for any questions you might be expected to receive. They will coach you on the proper way to answer any questions asked and will prepare you in advance for the often adversarial tone from the defendant’s attorneys. This can help you maintain your composure while being deposed.
During a deposition
Your lawyer will also be present during the deposition to object to certain lines of questioning or advise you not to answer any question they feel may damage your ability to receive compensation for your loved one’s wrongful death. The attorneys for both sides of the suit will use this time to ask questions they have prepared for each of the witnesses. The defendant in your lawsuit may have also hired expert witnesses of their own, who will need to be deposed and questioned to determine their level of mastery and familiarity with the issue at hand. Just as your attorney is gathering information to potentially discredit their expert witnesses, their attorneys will be doing the same.
After a deposition
You may ask yourself what happens after a deposition? There are several things that may happen, actually. First, you need to expect that it may take several weeks for your attorney to receive the records of the deposition. Once they have received the record, your attorney will review it and perhaps come up with some follow-up questions, or new lines of questioning. The attorney may even have your hired expert witnesses look through the deposition questions and determine if they would like any clarification or further detail on any of the subjects covered. This expertise is one of the primary reasons your wrongful death lawyer will recommend hiring expert witnesses in a wrongful death lawsuit, after all. Often, this will result in another round of depositions, which will take some more time.
Once the depositions have been completed, and no more is called for, each side will review their case and there may be meetings to discuss a settlement. Your expert witnesses’ testimony can be crucial during this part of the process. They are used to prove the defendant’s responsibility in the death of your loved one. They can also provide compelling reasoning for the defendant to offer you a suitable settlement amount. These negotiations will likely go back and forth before any type of agreement is reached.
If the original settlement negotiations do not bear fruit, your case may end up in arbitration. This is a process where a disinterested third party hears both sides of the case, and attempts to bring about a conclusion that each side finds acceptable. The arbitration may take place in a single sitting at a designated location, or it may take place remotely, with all communication passing through the arbitrator.
During a trial
The use of expert witnesses in a wrongful death lawsuit will really be at its most impactful if the case goes to trial. If the defendant has failed to offer a reasonable settlement or arbitration did not succeed, you may choose to take your case to trial. It is at this point in time that your expert witness will most likely shine brightest. They may be used in many ways during the proceedings, from discrediting claims made by the defense to explain in easy-to-understand terms some of the more technical aspects of your case.
A well-prepared expert witness will work in conjunction with your wrongful death attorney to demonstrate to the jury how the defendant is responsible for your loved one’s death. They will also be used to clarify any complicated or confusing evidence presented by the defense. They will be used to dispute or discredit any defense witnesses as well.
Careful and directive questioning by your attorney during the trial will allow your expert witnesses to show mastery of their chosen profession in such a way that it benefits your case. They will be able to take complicated or technical details and simplify them in such a way that they will become understandable to the jury. A jury may already feel sympathy for your situation, but without proof, they can understand and could find it hard to find in your favor. Your expert witnesses may be able to simplify and explain each subject to them and how it pertains to either the culpability of the defendant or to the amount of damages that you should be awarded.
These are just some of the many reasons you should seriously consider adding expert witnesses in a wrongful death lawsuit. They are valuable members of your team and could mean the difference between a suit filed and a suit won. Additionally, they can increase the amount of damages you are awarded through their demonstration of their mastery of their chosen fields.