Expert witnesses are among the people who typically testify in a wrongful death lawsuit. Lay witnesses who have direct ties to the case testify, too. Examples of expert witnesses include accident reconstructionists, doctors, accountants, and psychologists. They do not have personal involvement but offer neutral, informed testimony about the facts of the situation.
Who Typically Testifies in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Illinois?
A witness who typically testifies in a wrongful death lawsuit is either an expert or a layperson. Lay witnesses frequently have direct ties to the case and testify based on their personal knowledge. They include witnesses to an accident and people who knew the victim. They do not have any training, special knowledge, or expertise related to the lawsuit.
Expert witnesses, while sometimes charging high fees, add tremendous value to cases. Chicago wrongful death attorneys conduct cost-benefit analyses to determine the usefulness of various expert witnesses. The formula basically comes down to whether the expert offers more value to the case compared with the costs of hiring her or him. Lawyers use expert witnesses to prove liability, the facts of the case, and damages.
You must prove that you have a legal cause of action for which the court should grant you relief. Put another way, you must show that the other party is liable for causing your loved one’s death. Expert witnesses testify how the other party’s actions or lack of action caused the death and that the behavior was not in line with reasonable behavior.
The Facts of the Case
It is not always clear, especially to juries, what happened in the accident that cost your loved one his or her life. Expert witnesses review and assess the evidence, draw conclusions, and testify about their findings.
Examples of the types of evidence in a wrongful death case can include police reports, medical records (including test results, consultant records, notations, and prescriptions), photos and videos, witness statements, financial records, and physical evidence such as torn or bloody clothes.
Evidence of a duty of care relationship is another factor that many expert witnesses discuss. After all, physicians, motorists, manufacturers, and numerous others have a duty of care. Manufacturers, for example, have the duty of care to make safe products. If they do not, expert witnesses can testify about the duty of care relationship that manufacturers have with the people who use the products they make.
Expert witnesses discuss issues such as pain and suffering and the value of future lost compensation. The types of damages for which people can get compensation in Chicago personal injury cases are economic, noneconomic, and punitive.
Economic damages cover medical bills, lost wages, lost future income, expenses for ongoing medication, medical care, and supplies, and even home or vehicle modifications to accommodate a disability. Economic damages are typical in car accidents, slip and falls, defective product cases, and medical malpractice cases.
Noneconomic damages cover pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, disfigurement, mental anguish, and physical or mental disability. They can be difficult to quantify, one reason expert witnesses are so valuable. They help put a price tag on something that really cannot have one.
Punitive damages are not meant to try to make victims’ loved ones whole like the other two types of damages are. Rather, they are to punish the wrongdoers for their behavior and discourage similar behavior by others in the future. They are most typical in cases of especially intentional and egregious behavior.
What Kind of Experts Provide Wrongful Death Testimony?
Who typically testifies in a wrongful death lawsuit depends on the circumstances of a specific case. For instance, a car accident may involve somewhat of a different slate of expert witnesses than a medical malpractice wrongful death claim. That said, common types of experts who testify in various types of wrongful death cases include the following.
Chicago car accident attorneys turn to these expert witnesses to analyze the various factors that led to a crash. Accident reconstructionists examine the vehicles involved, survey the accident scene, analyze photographs, review medical data, and gather information from many other sources. They work in reverse to evaluate the physical evidence at the accident site for clues. They then reconstruct and study what happened before, during, and after a crash.
Reconstruction can turn up various crash causes such as lane change errors, running red lights, speeding, a car part defect that led the driver to lose control of the vehicle, visibility issues, or hazardous road conditions. Reconstructionists often submit 3D accident models to demonstrate in vivid and exacting detail how a crash occurred.
An engineer expert witness provides testimony in cases involving train and vehicular defects as well as construction equipment accidents. Engineering expert witnesses also testify in cases about industrial machinery injuries and deaths, and workplace fatalities. They even testify about liability related to escalator, stairs, and sidewalk slip-and-fall accidents. Engineers, like accident reconstructionists, investigate what happened and why and may create simulations of the accidents.
Doctors or Medical Expert Witnesses
Medical expert witnesses can be physicians, surgeons, nurses, or other medical personnel who have the necessary background to testify on a certain medical subject. They are common expert witnesses in medical malpractice and personal injury lawsuits.
Medical experts talk about the causes of injuries, the standard of care, and the expected long-term repercussions of injuries and medical conditions. They hail from diverse medical fields and can discuss misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, failure to diagnose, surgical errors, childbirth errors, prenatal negligence, anesthesia errors, medication errors, and a host of other issues.
Economists and Accountants
Economists and accountants are damages experts. That is, they testify as to how much a claim is worth. They touch on areas such as the wages a person earned before dying, the expected normal growth in wages, and how to adjust for factors such as time value of money.
Accountants testify about issues related to income taxes, generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), and financial reporting. Economists’ testimony is more on market risk, use of databases, and general economic theory. For example, an economist can develop a theory of damages, collect relevant data, analyze the damages data, and compile reports.
Vocational experts are experts in vocational rehabilitation. In a wrongful death case, people do not always die right away. The process may even take many years. Vocational experts can discuss how an accident affected the types of jobs a person could do and how it compared with the work the person did before the accident. They answer questions on earning capacity, medical care costs, and more. Some of their testimony can be similar to an economist’s, but vocational experts may offer deeper knowledge on job market and employment trends.
Psychologist witnesses can wear many hats. They may discuss the mental state of certain people involved in the case, the emotional and mental repercussions, traumatic brain injury, or the impact of the victim’s death on loved ones. Experts can hail from various fields such as police and public safety psychology, forensic psychology, couple and family psychology, or rehabilitation psychology.
Coroners or Autopsies Expert Witnesses
These expert witnesses weigh in on the causes of injury and death, and the severity of wounds. They discuss post-mortem examinations, forensic pathology, post-mortem biopsies, tissue reviews, and other areas.
What Kind of Lay Witnesses Provide Wrongful Death Testimony?
Police officers, eyewitnesses, and family members can testify in wrongful death cases as lay witnesses. They are usually directly involved somehow. Police officers and first responders tend to be the first people arriving at the scene. They testify about what they saw at the scene and what they heard from other witnesses. First responders may discuss medical issues and could be expert witnesses. Police officers, too, sometimes come down on the expert witness side if they have experience in accident investigations and accident re-creations.
Eyewitnesses are the people at the scene who saw what happened. They testify about their experiences.
The victim’s family members, loved ones, friends, and even co-workers talk about how the accident affected the victim’s life (in cases of death that was not immediate). They discuss how the death has affected their life, too.
Who Typically Testifies in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Your attorney looks at the case as a whole to evaluate who should testify. Attorneys weigh the potential utility of expert witnesses against the costs of bringing them to court. Often, expert witnesses are involved at many stages. For instance, an attorney might have an accident reconstructionist evaluate the scene and gather data before deciding whether to take the case to trial or try to pursue settlement.
Attorneys may consult some expert witnesses before even choosing to take on cases. Expert witnesses discuss liability, the facts of the case, and damages to prove a wrongful death claim and help victims’ families get the compensation they deserve.