As defined by the Federal Rules of Evidence, an expert witness is someone who, by their experience, skills, training, aor education, has specialist knowledge in a particular discipline or field beyond that of a layman so that others can rely on his or her opinion related to issues within their particular area of expertise. For example, an economic expert may be called in on a car accident case to calculate the value of things that were damaged or lost in the accident as well as more subtle losses like loss of future income, job opportunities, and promotions due to injuries.
The primary role of any expert witness is to help the court reach a decision by providing independent expertise, technical analysis, and opinion on an issue or issues. Many people have a misunderstanding of a witness’s function, with the belief that if attorneys and their clients engage an independent expert, paying that person’s fees, then that expert should support their case. But their primary obligation is to the court, assisting on matters that fall within their expertise, and are not bound to a party that is paying them, which would compromise the independence of the expert.
Requirements of the Appointing Party
The party who appoints an expert witness must agree to contractual terms in writing before any work is started, including the terms of payment. That contact must also include all detailed instructions relevant to the case, and the witness must be kept informed of any developments and key dates.
What the Expert Witness Cannot Do
An expert witness cannot be the advocate of the party who appointed them or advise that party on what information and evidence will be presented to the court. The individual shouldn’t provide any opinion beyond their specific area of expertise or accept an appointment that results in a conflict of interest. No appointment should be accepted based on conditional terms like the outcome of the case, such as conditional fee arrangements.
The Duties of an Expert Witness
An expert witness is expected to offer an independent expert opinion in their area of expertise on the subject at hand in accordance with instructions that are given. The instructions are provided in the expert witness’s report, which both the court and the other side will see. Opinions are provided in the form of expert reports that contain the information required by the court rules. Without the report, an expert witness typically cannot provide evidence in a case. All opinions must be impartial and truthful regardless of whether they favor the case of the client who appointed and is paying the witness.
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Additionally, the expert witness must cooperate with the other party’s expert witness to help narrow any technical issues in dispute at the earliest possible stage of the proceedings and to put into context any peripheral issues. Meetings should be attended to find areas of agreement and define areas of disagreement, which will be set out in a joint statement of experts as required by the court.