Advertisements for law firms might lead you to think that all it takes to win a personal injury case is a lawyer with a reputation for being aggressive. Everyone seems to want a “super aggressive attorney.” Truth of the matter is, however, that most of the time your lawyer’s personality has little effect on the outcome of your case. What matters more is that your attorney does his or her due diligence in order to reveal the truth without leaving doubt in the jury’s mind about your injuries and how the accident caused those injuries; if your personal injury lawyer can do this, little else matters. When your lawsuit succeeds or fails based on the severity of your injuries, the treatment they require, and their being the result of an accident and not a pre-existing condition, there is no substitute for reliable scientific facts. You do not need to be an expert in medicine or science, but you do need to contact the car accident lawyers at Foster Wallace, LLC to help you get the most knowledgeable experts to support your claim.
Expert Witness Testimony and Missouri Law
When you file a personal injury lawsuit after a car accident, you must convince a jury that the following things are true:
- The defendant (the driver of the car that hit you) caused the accident
- The defendant could have avoided the accident if he or she had been more careful
- Your injuries are because of the accident, not because of anything else
- Your financial losses are because of your injuries
Proving that the defendant caused the accident is not the hardest part, nor is it the most important. Because of Missouri’s comparative negligence laws, you can still win your case even if you bear some of the responsibility for causing the accident in which you were injured. The more difficult part is proving the exact nature and cause of your injuries; this requires testimony or a written statement by a physician.
Consider that, when you are sick, it is hard to pinpoint the cause just based on your symptoms. Were your sore throat and fever because of a cold or strep? Was your upset stomach because of a virus or food poisoning? It is virtually impossible to tell without lab tests. Likewise, in a car accident case, your medical records, including lab tests and diagnostic images, are what will make or break your case. Missouri law requires scientific evidence, such as statements about the meaning of your medical records, to be presented by a person with professional qualifications to interpret them. That expert should also be transparent about how he or she arrived at the interpretation being used to support your claims.
The Role of the Judge
In March 2017, Missouri adopted the “Daubert” standard, a set of guidelines for scientific expert testimony in civil and criminal trials; many states adopted this standard even earlier. Before 2017, the “Frye” standard was the guiding principle for determining whether expert witness testimony was admissible as evidence in a trial; the Frye standard only required that the expert’s views expressed in his or her testimony be widely accepted in the medical profession and not be controversial.
By contrast, the “Daubert” standard, which is based on a 1993 ruling by the United States Supreme Court, has much stricter requirements for expert witness testimony. Daubert, unlike any other standard for expert witness testimony ever used in the United States, requires judges to approve the testimony of expert witnesses before the witness presents it at trial. In other words, the judge must decide whether the evidence is credible and fair before the jury ever gets to hear it. This is important for your car accident case if it goes to trial; some personal injury lawsuit trials in Missouri involve a jury. According to the Daubert standard, the judge must review and fact-check the testimony before you or the defendant gets a chance to present it. This means more work for witnesses, lawyers, and judges, but it also means that your opponent cannot try to fool the jury with junk science, or at least cannot succeed if they try.
Qualified, Relevant, and Reliable
Another important aspect of the Daubert standard, at least as it is applied in Missouri, is the “qualified, relevant, and reliable” test.
- Qualified means that the expert witness has academic or professional credentials that enable him or her to evaluate your medical records, and the published research that enables him or her to interpret them with authority. For example, if you required back surgery after a car accident, the expert witness who explains your injury and its treatment and prognosis should be an orthopedic surgeon, not just any physician. For example, an oncologist, psychiatrist, or ear, nose, and throat doctor would not be qualified for this task, according to the Daubert standard.
- Relevant means that the claims the expert is making and the research he or she is citing should relate to your case in an obvious way. The expert’s claims are not valid as evidence if they are not relevant to your case, even if they are true. For example, the Daubert standard does not accept research about experiments conducted on animals as evidence in personal injury cases; the studies must be clinical trials with human subjects.
- Reliable means that, when the expert witness cities published research, its methodology is transparent. The studies state their rate of error. Ideally, the same results should have been reached by multiple experiments performed under the same conditions; in scientific terms, this means that the results should be replicable.
How the Daubert Standard Could Affect Your Case
In car accident lawsuits, the defendant often tries to argue that the injured plaintiff’s pain is due to some reason other than the injuries the plaintiff sustained in the crash. A big part of your car accident lawyer’s task is to demonstrate that your ongoing pain is because of the defendant’s negligence and not because of anything else. The Daubert standard establishes guidelines for proving that through expert witness testimony.
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