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Expert Witness or Expert, Witness?

Monday, May 14, 2018

I’ve been serving as an expert witness for engineering related cases for over 25 years.  It’s never been a big part of our business, but when an attorney contacts me with a question or a concern I can usually help, and if it turns into a case, oftentimes I get hired.  Brian Bottomley, PE is our other regular expert witness. Most of his work is limited to land acquisition cases representing either the plaintiff or the respondent (obviously never on the same case, and seldom in opposition to a regular client unless there is prior approval).

Several weeks ago, I was served with a 6-page subpoena on a drainage case, and one of the requirements was to provide a list of “any and all” (don’t get me started on that phrase) cases in which I had “EVER offered opinion, testified in court, been deposed, mentioned to a friend, dreamt about, watched on TV…”  So, I started a list from old job numbers (projects that generated an invoice) and was surprised to learn that I had been involved in over 80 cases.  The opposing “expert”, about my age, had testified in over 5,000 cases.  Since our opinions were opposite to one another, the question in my mind was who would be believed as the “expert”?  My client, his counsel, and evidently the opposing counsel after reading my report and questioning me during the 5-hour deposition provided the answer—
the case settled the next day in favor of my client.

Sometimes an attorney needs an “expert” that will say what the attorney wants, even if it’s incorrect or outside of his expertise.  Many of these “expert” witnesses, that are really just experts at witnessing, seem capable of doing that.  However, a licensed professional engineer cannot do anything but provide detailed analysis and truthfully testify to it.  Expertise in the legal process is helpful so that you can make your opinions clearly understood, but expertise in the profession of engineering is, in my expert opinion, the primary requirement.

Just my soapbox speech for the day.

Stay out of trouble!