This is the fourth segment of our series titled Evidence & Proving Your Car Accident Personal Injury Case. At this time we will look at how witness testimony can impact personal injury claims from motor vehicle accidents. These cases can have a wide scope of evidence that can support or defend a party. The evidence can include witnesses. There are two types of witnesses: laypersons and experts.
Laypersons are individuals who had an “eyewitness” account of the accident, such as pedestrians, other motorists, a business owner located adjacent to the scene, a construction or utility worker who happened to be near, or a host of other persons. An eyewitness is able to give valuable information regarding description or perspective of the accident.
An expert reviews the car accident or reconstructs the car accident so that he or she can clarify, explain and simplify complicated aspects or technical models. An example of such would be an accident expert who testifies to show that a vehicle was traveling at an excessive speed at the time of an accident.
An effective means to identify potential witnesses is at the scene immediately after the accident. Directly following the crash, once you have determined that you or others do not need immediate medical care, if there are onlookers, engage them at the scene.
People may be in a rush and not wish to be bothered; however, if you obtain their contact information, they may be willing to assist at a more convenient time.
If you had passengers at the time, do not forego this opportunity to obtain witnesses and assume your passengers are sufficient; they are not good options as witnesses because they may be perceived as potentially biased in your favor. When an unbiased eyewitness provides strong testimony and is deemed as credible, it can be extremely effective.
Obtaining Witness Testimony
During the pretrial and discovery processes, parties may formally request non-parties to appear to provide witness testimony. A subpoena is a court order requesting someone to produce certain information or to be present at a specific time and location to provide relevant case information. A deposition occurs when a witness delivers testimony relative to a case.
Types of Expert Witnesses
There are potential experts that exist in virtually all fields, industries, disciplines, or occupations. Some of the more common types of accident injury cases include:
- Testifying: An expert that is expected to be used as a witness.
- Non-testifying: An expert retained in preparations, but did not end up providing testimony.
- Medical: May be used to explain the injury incurred, severity, and any long-term disabilities or impairments that a person may have.
- Investigating officer: If an officer who responded to the accident has adequate education, training, and experience, they may be qualified to provide testimony and opinion as an un-retained expert.
- Reconstructionist: Experts in accident reconstruction tend to be engineers that can provide information about how an accident event developed and occurred. They commonly use tools such as scientific investigation and electronic modeling to reenact.
- Forensic accountant or economist: These experts may be used to calculate damages such as lost or reduced amounts of future earnings.
- Mental/psychological: This kind of expert may be used to explain mental conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder that may occur following an accident.
Qualifications & Credibility
Colorado's C.R.E. 702 provides a framework of how it is determined whether a witness is properly qualified to provide expert testimony:
- How reliable the witness' scientific principles are;
- Qualifications as a witness;
- How useful the testimony will be for the jury; and
- An expert's qualifications may be based on knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.
A truly excellent expert witness brings more than knowledge and expertise; they must be capable of explaining complex topics to jurors in a way that they are actually able to comprehend. In addition, the witness must be capable of communicating in a manner that is perceived by jurors as being honest and credible.
During a trial, an expert is likely to be challenged by opposing counsel who seeks to minimize their findings or opinions as well as potential rebuttal expert witnesses. Typically, it is better not to have a witness than to have one whose credibility is questionable.
In our next blog, we consider the importance of an accident reconstruction report, which an expert creates to determine what truly happened, how it happened, why it happened, among other factors. These reports can be the defining factor of a personal injury claim to prove that the plaintiff did not contribute in any way to the crash so as to not offset compensation, which the insurance company no doubt wants to do.