Because of the wide variety of cases that come before the courts, there are a wide variety of experts that come to court to offer testimony. Some experts may find their personal expertise can cross over from one area of the law to another. Experts may testify in adoption proceedings, child custody battles, medical malpractice, personal injury claims, products liability, divorce, criminal law, and beyond. Below are just a few of the many types of experts who testify before the court.
Medical experts include doctors, nurse practitioners, physical therapists, or any other medically trained professional. Medical experts may testify in medical malpractice or personal injury cases so long as their area of expertise is directly related to the injuries suffered by the plaintiff. Medical experts can enlighten the jury about pain and suffering experienced, additional surgeries required, or whether the person will ever fully recover. A medical expert may also be qualified to discuss limitations the person may have as the result of an injury.
Medical experts may also testify in certain criminal cases to shed light on the nature and extent of the injuries sustained by a victim of a criminal assault. In some states, there is a difference between the legal definition of “great bodily harm” versus “substantial bodily harm,” for example. A forensic pathologist may testify as to cause and manner of death in a homicide case as well.
Vocational experts can offer opinions on whether someone is capable of returning to work, and, if so, in what capacity. They may also offer an opinion on how long it might take to get a person trained in a particular skill set or job so that they can become independent. This type of testimony may be important in a personal injury case involving lost future wages. It may also be important in a divorce case where the question is how long one spouse requires alimony.
In a products liability case questioning whether a product was designed or manufactured safely, an engineer may apply their expertise to the product at hand and tell the jury if a designer or manufacturer knew (or should have known) that their design or manufactured product, when used as intended, could cause injury.
Forensic experts may offer opinions in many different types of cases. Most people associate forensic experts with criminal cases, where the issues relate to whether someone’s DNA was found on a critical piece of evidence at a crime scene, or whether the white powdery substance found in the defendant’s car tested positive for cocaine or methamphetamine.
However, forensic experts can also be useful in civil cases. For example, in a situation involving a drunk driver who caused an accident, the amount of alcohol found in the driver’s blood, breath, or urine might be important both in a criminal case and in a civil case. Similarly, whether a fire was accidental or intentionally set may be of interest both to criminal prosecutors and the insurance company that offered coverage on the structure that burned to the ground.
Financial experts can assist in many ways. In a divorce case, a forensic accountant may determine if one spouse is hiding assets or provide the court with information about potential tax consequences for various courses of action, such as one spouse keeping the house until the children are grown, or how to divide retirement accounts.
Forensic experts can also assist in probate court by determining the value of various pieces of property, from rental property or a family business to antiques, art, jewelry, and gun collections. Determining the value of the estate is essential to the fair division of property, as well as to determine tax consequences.
Financial experts can also help determine the value of future lost wages in today’s dollars.
In cases involving white collar fraud, a securities expert may be important. A securities expert can examine the evidence and the state of the market at the time to make determinations about deliberate fraudulent actions. They can also assess whether a bank or other financial institution failed to meet their fiduciary duties through action or inaction.
Mental Health Experts
There are a variety of situations wherein the mental health of one or more of the parties is in question. Was someone of sound mind when they changed their will? Was someone criminally insane at the time they committed a criminal act? Has a person been restored to competency such that they can return to handling their financial affairs? All of these questions can be answered by mental health experts who evaluate the individual and offer an opinion.
Parenting experts routinely offer their expertise in cases ranging from adoption to divorce to the termination of parental rights. A few instances in which a parenting expert may lend their expertise include evaluating a child’s emotional capacity to handle an every-other-week schedule or determining whether a parent’s addiction recovery is sufficiently under control. Parenting experts spend time with both the children and parents, evaluate the home life offered by each parent, and make recommendations in the children’s best interest based on their training and experience.
The Courts Provide Endless Potential for Experts
Every criminal and civil case is different from the next. Experts are needed in various circumstances based on those facts specific to a given case. At the end of the day, the abilities of an expert to address the questions of the court are limited only by the lawyer’s ability to understand the issues before them.