Personal Injury – the Crucial Role of Expert Witnesses

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Personal Injury – the Crucial Role of Expert Witnesses

If a person wishes to recover damages for personal injuries caused by somebody else, a comprehensive medical expert report will be needed. In particular the report will need to cover the injuries sustained, the treatment provided and prognosis. The expert’s report and testimony play a pivotal role in substantiating a claim for injuries and enables the claimant to seek maximum damages/compensation.

What constitutes an expert witness?

In cases involving injuries, expert witnesses, predominantly comprised of doctors or other healthcare professionals, conduct examinations on the claimant and generate reports detailing the injuries. These experts also provide informed opinions on the prognosis of the individual and the impact of the injuries on their life. Medical experts encompass a spectrum of specialties, to include orthopaedic surgeons, physicians, psychiatrists and pain specialists. The selection of the most suitable expert aligns with the nature of the individual’s injuries.

In specific instances, such as road traffic accidents, workplace accidents or accidents in public places an expert engineering report or another type of expertise may be deemed appropriate.

The significance of an expert report

When initiating an injury claim against the responsible party (typically directed towards their insurance company), the burden of proof rests on the claimant to establish the other party’s responsibility for the injuries. The strength of the case is directly correlated with the amount of evidence supporting the claim. A medical expert’s examination and report are instrumental in validating the extent of injuries, detailing how they occurred, assessing recovery progress, and outlining the prognosis. In serious cases, a comprehensive medical report from experts can potentially maximize the amount of damages obtained.

Upon receipt and disclosure of the report to the opposing party, it can expedite the possibility of an early settlement. Striving for a fair settlement is a priority to circumvent costly and protracted litigation.

Is the expert obligated to take my side?

It is crucial to recognise that expert witnesses owe paramount duties to the court. Contrary to common perception, the expert’s overarching duty is to the court, not the instructing party.

The Rules of the Superior Courts in Ireland provide:

Order 39

  1. It is the duty of an expert to assist the Court as to matters within his or her field of expertise. This duty overrides any obligation to any party paying the fee of the expert.
  2. Every report of an expert delivered pursuant to these Rules or to any order or direction of the Court shall:
    1. contain a statement acknowledging the duty mentioned in sub-rule
    2. disclose any financial or economic interest of the expert, or of any person connected with the expert, in any business or economic activity of the party retaining that expert, including any sponsorship of or contribution to any research of the expert or of any University, institution or other body with which the expert was, is or will be connected, other than any fee agreed for the preparation by the expert of the report provided or to be provided in the proceedings concerned and any fee and expenses due in connection with the participation of the expert in the proceedings concerned.

Experts must maintain independence, providing objective and unbiased opinions. While there is a risk that an expert may not produce a report entirely supportive of the claimant’s wishes, any change in opinion on a material matter after the report’s service must be communicated to all involved parties. Attempting to switch experts, known as ‘expert shopping,’ is frowned upon by the courts and not considered a viable solution if one disagrees with the report’s contents.