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How Valuable is Expert Testimony in Virginia Civil Cases?

How Valuable is Expert Testimony in Virginia Civil Cases?

Expert testimony is an important part of most trials and typically makes all the difference in proving your case and is particularly true in personal injury cases. Medical doctors play an important role in personal injury cases because of their expertise in diagnosing, treating, and causally relating the injuries to the subject lawsuit. In a personal injury case, the plaintiff has the burden of proving all of this. This is where expert testimony plays a role.

Why is Expert Testimony Needed?

Expert testimony is needed to explain scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge that the average person, commonly referred to as a layperson, would not be aware of. If a layperson has common knowledge of a particular subject, then an expert is not required. Furthermore, if a layperson is deemed to have common knowledge of the subject matter, the expert could be prohibited from testifying on that subject at all.

Virginia Rule of Supreme Court 2:702 establishes to what extent an expert in a civil and criminal trial can testify. In Virginia civil proceedings, an expert can testify as to their opinion, as long as it is within a reasonable degree of probability relating to the facts of the case and assisting the judge or jury in rendering a verdict. However, an expert witness cannot testify to the credibility of another witness or anything that is deemed to be speculative. 

In short, expert testimony explains something that a layperson would not be expected to have knowledge of. 

How to Qualify a Witness as an Expert

It does not take much to qualify a witness as an expert, and the Courts have broad discretion to consider several factors. Virginia Rule of Supreme Court 2:702 states: “a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.” This broad standard establishes that a witness can be qualified as an expert based on their knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education on the subject. No one criteria are dispositive on the other, or whether or not a witness will be qualified as an expert. 

Generally speaking, a witness is usually held to be an expert by the Court if they possess knowledge, experience, training, or education related to the subject they are expected to opine on. A witness does not necessarily need any formal education or possess a degree to be qualified as an expert if the presiding judge deems the witness has sufficient knowledge, experience, or training on such a subject. 

Choosing an Expert

Experts, especially in personal injury cases, can make or break a case. That is why it is essential to choose experts wisely. They must be willing and comfortable testifying. Suppose an expert is not comfortable testifying in front of a jury. In that case, that expert’s testimony will likely come off as apprehensive or insecure, ultimately affecting the expert’s credibility with the jury. It is also critical that the expert is undoubtedly qualified. While a witness’s criteria to be deemed an expert is dependent on his or her knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education on the subject, it is always ideal to have any potential expert witness have all of those criteria met, not just some. It also builds credibility with the jury to be able to show off an expert’s credentials. 

The most common type of expert used to testify in personal injury cases is a medical expert. A medical expert is crucial to opine on an injured person’s diagnosis, treatment, and most importantly, whether the injuries and treatment were causally related to the subject lawsuit. Having the plaintiff’s actual treating doctor testify on their patient’s behalf is ideal. A treating doctor will resonate with a jury more than a doctor who was just hired as an expert to opine on the issues. 

Expert testimony is a critical part of almost all personal injury cases in proving your case. It is crucial to make sure all experts are more than qualified to be deemed an expert, comfortable testifying, and aware of the case’s facts.

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