If your expert witness is trying to talk you out of taking a case, then you know you’ve hired a good one. Less experienced or less qualified experts will often leave you hanging when you need their guidance the most – the moment you decide to take a case on.
Plaintiff attorneys don’t want to drill a dry hole by taking a case that lacks merit and the person who may be most qualified to tell you that is your testifying expert. In my area of expertise – slips, trips and falls – the chances of winning a jury verdict are pretty poor. It is not just that a case may lack foundation, an attorney must also consider that the case will be faced with the scrutiny of a talented and well informed defense attorney most likely armed with their own expert. With such in mind, I, like a growing number of expert witnesses, frequently receive calls from enquiring attorneys regarding a case that they are considering taking. Before they commit to represent the client, they want to run the facts by me.
If, after learning the facts, I don’t believe their case facts are strong or if, I find there are some hard issues, I will often suggest that they (1) consider not taking the case or (2) hire another expert. I, like any other professional, have to preserve my integrity and reputation. By recommending that an attorney reconsider their case, I’m helping them as well as myself. The last thing a good expert wants to do is ruin their reputation by associating themselves with a bad case, in which a plaintiff ’s story simply doesn’t add up. Sadly, many experts will take on bad cases and do so at the risk of their own reputation.
The Case Consulting Expert vs. the Technical Expert Before you consider taking a case you may want to call a consulting expert with experience in your type of case first. A growing number of expert witnesses will help evaluate your case for a small fee or for no cost. Either way, the cost of getting good advice from the beginning could save you tens of thousands in unwanted case time and expenses.
An injured party can tell you the story of how they were injured and provide background information on the who, when, and where. For the critical questions, such as, why and how, you need a technical expert who can develop the case. However, you may be better suited to speak to a big picture expert. Someone with the background and experience to give you a comprehensive view of your case whereby they expose both the upside and downside of your case.
Technical experts come in many shapes and sizes. If all you need to know is the possible “whys” from which an incident may have occurred, then hiring a technical expert may be the right choice. If, however, you want to consider if a case is worth your time, then you should reach out to a consulting expert first.
So how should you go about seeking a case consultant, first reach out to your existing network of colleagues and legal staff who have a wide database of experts that they have worked with in the past. Secondly, many legal Web-based organizations have a listserve which provide attorneys to post questions regarding locating a consulting expert. Lastly, take the time to go through your local, state or regional expert witness directory which you may have either in hardcopy or via the Web and look for experts who offer free consultations. Anyone who is willing to take the time out of their busy schedule to discuss your case for free may provide you with an educational experience while demonstrating their own qualifications. Russell J. Kendzior