It is the Plaintiff’s responsibility to bring forward enough evidence to satisfy a jury or judge who is deciding issues in the case. As part of that process, we sometimes hire experts to give opinions about particular issues. An expert is an independent evaluator with advanced technical knowledge who reviews the facts and circumstances of your case to formulate opinions to assist the judge and jury with decisions in the case. Examples can include doctors (who can state an opinion on the cause of an injury, physical pain and limitations), economists (who analyze lost wages, benefits and vocational prospects when you’re out of work or if there’s a death) and accident reconstructionists (who re-create a construction or traffic accident). Often, the expert will be counted on to provide his or her opinion in a deposition or at trial or both.
The decision to hire an expert is on a case by case basis. Sometimes an expert can assist with case preparation because their expertise can help the attorney ask for the right documents in discovery, etc. Additionally, experts are used to support a part of your case that is being challenged by the defendant (or that you expect will be challenged). In a medical malpractice case, you cannot even begin to pursue your case without an expert opinion from another doctor that malpractice has occurred. One thing is almost always certain, you can expect to be challenged by the defendant on one or more issues in your case. When that occurs, it is important to have as much support for your position as possible. And when that contested issue involves technical knowledge beyond your knowledge, you will need experienced, trained professionals to help explain your position. Defendants hire experts and so should you, when recommended by your attorney.
Your attorney will find experts who are best equipped to help with your case and who are familiar with industry standards. Unfortunately, expert opinions are not free. Nor will experts often work on a “contingency basis” as many plaintiff’s attorneys do. Experts typically bill by the hour and expect to be paid regardless of the outcome of your case. In addition, they often require up-front retainers. So, the decision to hire an expert is one that should be considered early on in your case. Although things happen in the course of litigation that may change a decision about hiring experts, usually attorneys will know that they need certain experts prior to filing a lawsuit.
Therefore, if you cannot afford to hire an expert you may be limited in your ability to pursue your case. This is one of those “costs” that make litigating cases difficult for most people. Be sure to have an open discussion about experts, expert fees and all costs at the beginning of your case. And if you don’t understand the need for an expert in your case or who will pay for it, ask your attorney.