The testimony of an expert witness can be the deciding factor in the outcome of a case. However, because of its importance, federal courts require expert testimony to meet a standard called the Daubert standard, named after the case Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993).
One of the reasons that standards for expert witnesses are needed is due to the potential weight that a jury may give to witnesses who are designating themselves as “experts.” However, just because a person may call him or herself an expert in a particular field, this does not mean that this person is actually an expert in that field. Likewise, a person may be a highly qualified expert in his or her field, but may still attempt to offer testimony that is not supported by either his or her expertise. For example, if a medical doctor wants to testify that the design of the floor in a slip and fall case was adequate, the fact that the doctor is an expert in the practice of medicine does not mean that the doctor is an expert in architecture or engineering, and the doctor may not be allowed to offer this testimony.
An expert must satisfy three requirements in order to be admissible in federal court. First, an expert must be qualified to testify competently regarding the matters he or she intends to address. Second, the expert must use a reliable methodology to reach his or her conclusions. Third, the expert’s testimony must be helpful to a jury (or judge in the case of a bench trial) understand the facts or evidence at issue in the case.
In order for an expert to meet the qualification requirement, the expert must possess knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education on the subject of his or her testimony. Notably, the qualifications that an expert must possess do not need to be extensive, and an expert only needs to be minimally qualified in order to meet this requirement. For example, even if a medical doctor has only practiced medicine for a few years, this does not mean that the doctor is unqualified to offer expert medical testimony. After all, an expert with limited experience could still offer a correct opinion based on valid reasoning, and an expert with decades of experience could offer an incorrect opinion based on flawed reasoning. Indeed, it is the validity of the expert’s reasoning is generally what federal courts are more concerned with, and federal courts often find that an expert’s qualifications are a matter that the jury can weigh itself.
This brings us to the second and usually most contentious requirement of the Daubert standard, methodology. Experts are typically compensated for their time when they prepare for and offer testimony in a case, sometimes at very high rates. Because of this, there is concern that these experts will offer testimony favorable to the party that hired them even if their expertise does not support this testimony. In other words, federal courts are concerned that the reasoning behind an expert’s opinion could simply be “because I said so.” The methodology requirement helps federal courts safeguard against this possibility.
The methodology an expert is expected to use depends on the type of expert he or she is, and the facts of the case. For example, in complex products liability cases where people were harmed by a defective product, the chemistry of the product and the degree to which this chemistry caused peoples’ injuries may be an issue. In such cases, an expert’s methodology must typically be much more rigorous than, for example, an expert primarily testifying about code violations.
In less complex cases, such as a typical slip and fall on a wet floor, an expert’s methodology must be based on facts which enable him or her to express a reasonably accurate conclusion, and the expert must have adequately reasoned from these facts to his or her conclusions. For example, an expert may have concluded that a premises owner did not meet a particular safety code because its floor was too slippery when wet. In that case, an expert will often be expected to explain the code, explain the evidence in the case (such as explaining any testing he or she did of the floor), and explain how the evidence shows that the floor was, in fact, more slippery than this code required or recommended for wet floors.
Finally, the third requirement requires that an expert’s testimony be helpful to the jury (or judge in the case of a bench trial). Juries may be just as capable of understanding certain issues in a case without an expert’s testimony. In such cases, federal courts are often concerned that a party’s claim or defense may be unfairly bolstered by expert testimony. For example, turning back to the slippery floor example, while an expert’s testimony would assist a jury in understanding how slippery a floor is allowed or recommended to be when wet, depending on the case, a jury may not need an expert to tell them that there was water on the floor. Because there are many ways that an expert’s testimony can be helpful, this requirement, like the qualification requirement, is not typically as contentious as the methodology requirement.
4. Hire a Lawyer With Experience Litigating Cases With Expert Witnesses
If you have suffered an accident that may require the testimony of an expert witness, we recommend that you consult with experienced lawyers who know and understand the Daubert standard and have the passion to represent you and protect your legal rights. Finding the right lawyer to represent you is probably one of the most important decisions you will ever make.
Our personal injury law firm in Miami has over 30 years of combined legal experience representing people and their families who have been hurt across the State of Florida. Let our years of experience help you if you were injured because of the negligence of others. Contact our office today at 1-866-597-4529 or by email at [email protected].