Recent developments in expert witness selection for a trucking accident lawsuit have served to clarify what is required of an attorney handling a case for personal injury victim.
Texas courts have largely followed federal courts in analyzing when an expert may testify and when an expert should be excluded. There are four individual factors that relate to how helpful and accurate the testimony will be in order to be received by the trier of fact.
Those factors are as follows:
Is it helpful?
The first factor that should be considered when selecting an expert in a truck accident case should be if the expert’s testimony would be helpful to the jury. There are two types witnesses, lay witnesses and expert witnesses. Lay witnesses are those who testify about things they saw or heard and specific facts relating to the action. Expert testimony comes in when the expert has knowledge and experience, which are beyond the knowledge of the average juror. Most of the time this analysis does not play much of a part in excluding an expert witness in a truck accident case. Courts have used the helpful analysis to exclude witnesses when a witness sought to testify as an expert, about subject matter that was not beyond the reasoning of the jury.
In the case of Honeycutt v. Kmart, 24 S.W. 3rd 357 (Tex. 2000), the Texas Supreme Court clarified that expert testimony should be excluded in the event a jury is equally competent to form an opinion that the expert wants to testify on, excluding a human factors “expert” because an average juror could form an opinion on the same subject matter.
Is the expert qualified?
One area of ongoing battles is that of the qualifications of the expert proffered in the case. Texas Rules of Evidence, Rule 702 provides a basis for expert testimony in scientific, technical or other specialized area. The burden of proof to establish the experts qualification lies up with the party calling the expert. Proving up the qualifications of your expert is generally done by oral testimony and occasionally by affidavit when a motion to exclude the expert is being heard.
In a trucking accident lawsuit, expert witnesses who reconstruct the accident are usually retained when there were no eyewitnesses to the accident or if the accident scenario was complex and required technical analysis to reenact and describe to the jury. Many times police officers are called to testify in a truck accident case and in some of those instances the officer may or may not be able to testify regarding accident reconstruction. See Lopez-Juarez v. Kelly, 348 S.W. 3rd 600, (Tex.App. 2011), indicating a police officer’s testimony should have been excluded in the area of accident reconstruction.
In order to meet the qualifications requirement the witnessed should have extensive training and experience and the prudent personal injury attorney will be cautious in their selection of an expert.
Are the opinions reliable?
Probably the most important factor in any expert witness analysis would be the reliability requirement for the testimony being proffered. It is this analysis that courts have used to exclude the vast majority of experts not permitted to testify. All experts are subject to the reliability factor in determining whether or not a jury should hear the testimony. While the reliability analysis is beyond the scope of this article, the essence of a reliability challenge is that the expert’s opinions are not trustworthy and for that reason should be excluded.
Often the condition of the tractor-trailer itself may be an issue in the lawsuit. Motor carriers have an ongoing duty to ensure that the trucks under their control are safe while on the roadway. The plaintiff attorney may consider an expert witness to testify about compliance of the motor carrier with the rules and regulations that apply and if they are qualified the condition of the semi truck. An accident reconstruction expert may be also utilized to tie-in the condition of the truck with the accident factors.
In short, there cannot be any analytical gap between the expert testimony a plaintiff may seek to offer in a truck wreck case.
Rule 403 – is it relevant?
All evidence must be relevant in order to be admissible in a court of law. Expert testimony is no different. In other words, a court may exclude a violation of rules and regulations that relate to the condition of the truck or maybe specifically the brakes, if the brakes and the condition of the truck played no part in the accident.
Selecting an expert witness or expert witnesses in accidents involving big rigs can be an important component to a successful recovery for a family. Particularly when the condition of the vehicle is at issue in the case and was a cause of the accident. Most defense attorneys who defend trucking companies use the same set of experts in most of their cases. Truck accident attorneys who prosecute damage cases against trucking companies should be very familiar with the known defense experts.
Retaining an attorney who is familiar with the experts generally used in motor carrier accident litigation can be an important component in obtaining justice for the family.