For most Floridians — and most Americans — the legal system is too complex. Other than what we may have seen on TV or in movies, most of us don’t really understand what happens in a courtroom, particularly when it comes to civil cases. So, when we have the misfortune of being involved in a personal injury case, we are even more stressed out by the prospect of filing a lawsuit.
While filing a legal claim can be daunting, a skilled attorney can shepherd you through the process. This includes gathering evidence that will help support your case and get you the compensation that you deserve.
There are many different types of evidence that can be used in a Florida personal injury case. For example, in a car accident claim, a police report may be used to demonstrate that the other driver was at fault for the collision. However, a police report is not admissible in court. Thus, there are many other, more effective forms of evidence that can be utilized to prove a claim, such as expert witnesses.
The Burden of Proof in Personal Injury Cases
Personal injury cases are based on a theory of negligence, which is the failure of one party to use reasonable care to avoid causing injury to another. The injured party, who is referred to as the plaintiff, may suffer a range of damages, such as medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, and pain and suffering.
When a plaintiff brings a personal injury lawsuit, the burden of proof is on the Plaintiff to prove that the defendant (the person or entity responsible for the accident) should be held responsible. To do so, the plaintiff must prove the four elements of a negligence claim: duty, breach, causation and damages.
Duty of care is the obligation that each of us has to avoid injuring others or putting them in danger. A plaintiff must show that a defendant had a duty of care based on the facts of specific case to meet their burden of proof for this element.
Next, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant breached their duty of care. This is shown by demonstrating that the defendant either did or failed to do something that a reasonably prudent person (an average person) would do under similar circumstances. For example, a reasonably prudent person would not follow a car too closely in violation of Florida law, so evidence that the defendant was following too closely at the time of a car accident may be proof that they breached their duty of care.
The plaintiff then must show that the defendant’s breach caused their injury. This is often a straightforward requirement, such in dog bite cases: the dog bit you and you suffered deep puncture wounds as a result. But in other claims, it may be more complicated, like if you had a pre-existing injury — the defendant may argue that your injury was pre-existing and not caused by the accident in question.
Finally, a plaintiff must prove their damages. This will include any losses that you have suffered as a result of the injury, which may include both special damages (out-of-pocket expenses that can be quantified, such as lost wages) and general damages (more speculative losses, such as pain and suffering). In rare cases, punitive damages are awarded if the plaintiff can prove that intentional misconduct or gross negligence occurred.
The Importance of Expert Witnesses
Learning the elements of a personal injury claim is vital to understanding how expert witnesses can strengthen a personal injury claim. Because the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove each element of a negligence case, an expert witness may be necessary to bolster an argument that a defendant had a duty of care to the plaintiff, breached that duty, caused the plaintiff’s injuries, or that the plaintiff suffered certain damages.
Under Florida’s evidentiary rules, expert witnesses may testify at trial if scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge will assist the jury or judge in understanding the evidence or deciding a fact at issue in the case. A witness is qualified as an expert based on their knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education. An expert witness may be permitted to testify at trial if their testimony is based on sufficient facts or data, is the product of reliable principles and methods, and they have applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.
This rule is meant to ensure that experts presented in court (in both civil and criminal cases) are legitimate, and that they present their opinions based on sound reasoning. In other words, if a proposed expert witness is a conspiracy theorist whose testimony lacks any sort of evidentiary basis, then they will not be permitted to testify. This is important, because expert witnesses should add clarity to the case and help the judge or jury determine the truth of what actually happened — and whether the defendant should be held responsible.
There are a number of different types of experts that may be used in a personal injury case. Some experts consult with attorneys to help explain important issues, while others testify at trial. In any given personal injury case, the following expert witnesses may be utilized:
- Medical experts: to
testify or consult about the victim’s injury, their treatment, and prognosis
- Mental health experts: to testify or consult about how the injury has impacted the victim’s mental and emotional state
- Accident reconstruction experts: to testify or consult about how the accident happened using drawings, models and computer programs
- Engineering experts: to testify or consult about the construction of a building or roadway and how it may have contributed to an accident
- Manufacturing experts: to testify or consult about how a product was defective or improperly designed
- Economics or financial experts: to testify or consult about how the injury has affected the victim’s financial status (lost earning capacity, etc.)
These expert witnesses can provide vital information at any stage of a trial — or before trial — that will support a plaintiff’s case. For example, a doctor may be able to testify about the extent of a slip and fall victim’s injuries, as well as how the accident impacts the victim’s ability to engage in daily activities. This testimony may be crucial to proving damages.
In other cases, an expert witness may be called to talk about industry standards. This may be particularly important to prove duty of care, by showing that similar entities act in a certain way — and the defendant in this case fell below that standard, breaching their duty of care.
While expert witnesses are often costly to hire, they can provide crucial information and testimony. Depending on the facts of the case, an expert witness may even allow your attorney to negotiate a favorable settlement rather than having to take the case to trial. If your case does go to trial, having one or more expert witnesses may be essential to a successful outcome.
Work with a Miami Personal Injury Lawyer
If you have been injured in any type of accident, you are likely feeling stressed and overwhelmed about what to do next. A personal injury lawyer in Miami can relieve some of that burden, by taking on the insurance company and handling the legal aspect of your case while you focus on your recovery.
For more than 20 years, Kaire & Heffernan has represented victims who have been injured in all types of accidents, from slip and falls to dog bites to car accidents to medical malpractice. Based in Miami, we offer services in both Spanish and English, as well as free initial consultations for all prospective clients. To learn more, contact our office today at 305-372-0123, or reach out online.