Our professional engineers and traffic accident reconstructionists offer expert witness services to attorneys and the insurance industry.
The engineer will conduct a thorough investigation of the accident and present his conclusions at trail in an easy to understand fashion. The engineers at Atlanta Engineering Services are known for "making the technical, understandable" and will often use demonstrative exhibits in order to make the evidence and engineer's conclusions more clearly understood to the judge and jury.
It is the job of the expert witness to explain the technical aspects of the case to the judge and the jury. The technology of today's world is much more complicated and technical than ever. Explanation of technical issues in a non-technical way helps the courts understand the scientific issues.
The role of an expert witness in court is to clearly explain the technical issues to the jury. An expert that talks over the heads of the jury soon loses the jury and their minds wander off to the beach or the kids at school.
Expert witnesses are sometimes forensic engineers. They have the technical knowledge which is not available to the average person. A typical traffic accident case often involves explaining large amounts of technical data. A good expert witness explains the data in an understandable manner.
The initial interview with the attorney should accomplish two objectives. First, the forensic engineer should discuss the details of the case with the attorney to determine if a conflict of interest exists with any of the parties involved in the case.
On many occasions, I have been emailed a list of the parties involved before discussing the specifics of the case with the attorney. On several occasions, I have discovered that I had already been retained by the opposing attorney. No expert wants to get involved in a case where a conflict of interest exists.
The second reason to have these talks with the attorney is to determine whether the engineer's expertise matches with the issues of the case. If an engineer determines that his education, experience, and training does not match the needs of the attorney, he should decline to accept the case. Then the engineer may direct the client to an expert who has the proper expertise.
A preliminary investigation is needed to determine if the expert's opinion will be helpful to the client. If it isn't, explain to the client's attorney the findings and decline to take the case. It may be that the facts do not support the client's case.
Armed with this information, the attorney can determine whether the client has a viable case or not. This information helps the attorney to know whether to move forward with the case or to pursue a settlement.
In the ideal world, the client's attorney would retain the expert witness early and before the evidence becomes lost or destroyed. But it isn't an ideal world. Many of our cases have come months and sometimes years after the incident.
Many of our cases involve traffic accidents and represent the sequence of the technical investigation. The investigation of a car wreck begins with an inspection of the scene. The scene tells a portion of the story as to how the accident happened. The reconstruction engineer will inspect the scene as soon as possible.
The engineer looks at the area of impact (AOI), tire marks before impact and post impact, pavement gouges, debris from collision of the vehicles, the line of sight and many other pieces of data.
The second step in the technical investigation of an accident is to inspect the vehicles. Some cases involve only one vehicle while other cases involve several cars, trucks and motorcycles. The reconstruction engineer inspects each vehicle, takes photographs, measures crush damage and gathers other information from each vehicle.
The expert witness will evaluate all the data obtained from the inspections and any additional information furnished by the retaining attorney. This may include surveys, test reports, police reports, repair estimates, witness statements and simulations.
It is during this phase that the forensic engineer will form his opinions that will be discussed with the attorney and later in a deposition and to the jury.
The expert witness should first discuss his findings with the attorney. The engineer should not commit anything in writing until asked to do so by the attorney. Any written information will be subject to discovery by the opposing attorney. If the engineer's findings are favorable based upon his investigation, the attorney may ask to have a report prepared.
The report should be prepared carefully. It should outline the investigation you have done, the material used in the investigation, the basis of your opinion and the opinions formed during the investigation.
Contradictions and ambiguities should be avoided which the opposing attorney can use to confuse the issue in a deposition. The expert should state his opinions clearly and how he arrived at his opinions.
On the other hand, if engineer's findings do not support the position of the client; the attorney will not want a report prepared. The attorney will probably decide not to use an expert witness.
Depositions are taken during the discovery process. This process allows the attorneys on both sides of the litigation access to the same information. Because the discovery process is so thorough, most cases are settled during or after the discovery process is complete. All the facts of the case are known to both sides. Often, the side with the weaker case will offer a settlement.
Depositions are usually taken in a conference room of one of the attorneys. A deposition is a written testimony of a witness who is under oath. Statements are taken down by a court reporter and the opposing attorney asks the questions.
Two things the expert witness should do before every deposition. First, prepare carefully. Review all the information he has obtained and how he reached his conclusions. Prepare to articulate the opinions clearly. Second, meet with the attorney several days prior to the deposition. Have a clear grasp of what the facts of the case are and communicate this information to the attorney.
Because the retaining attorney will have been in all prior depositions of witnesses, he will have an understanding of the objective of the opposing attorney. He will provide information of what has been revealed during the discovery process.
The attorney will help anticipate the kinds of questions an engineer will likely to be asked by opposing counsel. He will advise the expert to be careful about giving more information than is asked for by the attorney.
Preparation is critical to being an effective expert witness and meeting with the attorney prior to the deposition is a necessary part of preparation.
The direct outcome of many cases is the result of the conclusions and opinions of the experts.
After being sworn in, the first step of a testimony is to establish the engineer's qualifications as an expert. The attorney who is calling the expert witness will conduct direct examination. This is followed by cross-examination by the opposing attorney. After direct and cross-examination, the judge will rule on the engineer's qualifications to testify in the case.
Direct examination will be taken by the attorney that retained the expert. He will ask you to explain what you were asked to do and how you went about gathering the information.
The engineer will be asked whether he has an opinion in this case and what that opinion is. His opinion should be stated without any elaboration. He will also be asked the basis of his opinion.
The cross-examination is taken by the opposing attorney. The purpose of cross-examination is to bring out evidence that has been ignored in direct examination. Of course, the opposing attorney will attempt to impeach or call into question your credibility. Proper preparation will help prevent this from happening. Bottom line, be prepared!
Serving as an expert witness can be a very satisfying experience. Applying engineering knowledge and experience in the court of law is a very interesting mix. It requires looking at a problem from all points of view.
The accident scene investigation
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