Most Boston car accident cases will settle prior to even being filed in the Suffolk Superior Court. In some cases, when a settlement offer by the at-fault driver’s insurance company is insufficient, the case will be filed in court, and then often settled prior to trial. A small number of claims will end up going to trial. In these situations, there may be the need for expert witnesses to be consulted and even to testify at trial.
The need for an expert witnesses is determined by the subject matter of the evidence being offered. Many things presented as evidence in the form of witness testimony or exhibits is considered to within the purview of the layperson on the jury. Anyone who is not an exert in a certain field relevant to the evidence is a layperson under the law. As a Boston car accident lawyer can explain, while we often think of an expert as someone in the scientific community ( there many experts in the so-called hard sciences like chemistry or engineering), there are also experts in areas that would not immediately come to mind.
Facts vs. Opinions in Boston Car Accident Cases
There are essentially two different types of witnesses in a civil lawsuit – fact witnesses and expert witnesses. A fact witnesses can testify solely about facts they personally observed. For example, in a car accident case, there may have been a dispute over whether the light was red or green. If a witness gets on the stand and says she personally observed the traffic light at the time of the Boston car accident and it was red, this is fact testimony. The subject of whether a light was green, and more importantly, the veracity of the witness, does not require expert testimony. This lay witness, however, can only testify as to facts and not form an opinion. Everyone who is expressing an opinion in court who is not an expert is speculating, which is not allowed under the rules of evidence. This is where you would hear the objection “calls for speculation.”
An expert, however, can form an opinion because that opinion is based upon the expert’s education, training, and experiencing so it is not speculating. For example, if one party argued the traffic light was malfunctioning at the time and it required detailed testimony about how the light operates, and what caused it to malfunction, this would require an expert opinion. It does not however, require an expert who is an engineer in many cases. It may be the person who typically maintains the traffic lights and has training and experience about how the light works. The other party would then typically have to call their own expert to refute that testimony.
In Boston car accident lawsuits, as discussed above, experts are typically not required, but there are certain cases that do require the consultation or testimony of an expert witness. This is often needed when there is an issue as to causation and an accident reconstruction expert forms an opinion as to the cause of the accident, and testifies as to that opinion.
Amoah v. McKinney
In Amoah v. McKinny, an appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which has jurisdiction over cases filed in Boston, addressed issues surrounding expert witness testimony. In this case, plaintiff was driving in the Worcester, Massachusetts area and alleged that they were hit by a semi-tractor trailer. Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the driver and the owner of the trucking company. In addition to the standard negligence claims, there were also claims directly brought against the employer for negligent retention of an employee and negligent hire.
Negligent Hire and Negligent Supervision in Boston Car Accident Lawsuits
These claims are direct claims against the employer and are arguing that the employer was negligent in hiring the employee because they knew or should have known the employee was likely to engage in negligent conduct that could harm a foreseeable plaintiff. Negligent retention means that even if the hire was not negligent, the employer knew or should have known the employee was a potential danger prior to the accident occurring, yet did not take any steps to prevent the employee from harming a foreseeable victim.
In this accident, plaintiff alleged that after being hit by the truck, the car was forced into the guardrail and this did substantial damage to the vehicle and caused substantial personal injury. Defendant however, argues that the plaintiff’s car first hit the guardrail and lost control at which point it crashed into the truck. Defendant hired an expert witness who was to testify as to this opinion and submitted the name of the expert witness as part of the discovery process. The plaintiff found an expert to counter this opinion, but did not declare the expert until roughly four months after the final date to submit the name of an expert witness.
At this point, plaintiff and defendant filed cross motions for summary judgement pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP). A motion for summary judgement says that there is no genuine dispute as to material fact and the court should enter a verdict in its favor. A judge has the job the of interpreting the law, and a jury has the job of hearing the facts and making a decision based upon the law given to them by the judge. If it is a bench trial, the judge will decide both facts and law.
In this case, the trial court agreed that plaintiff did not timely submit its expert witness declaration. It granted defendant’s motion for summary judgement and dismissed the case. When plaintiff appealed, the court of appeals concluded there was no excuse for not timely declaring an expert witness. They also found the delay was harmful and prejudicial to defendant and affirmed the trial court’s granting of defendant’s motion for summary judgement. This is a fairly complex issues so the best thing a car accident plaintiff can do is to discuss it with their attorney during the free initial consultation.
If you are injured in an accident in Massachusetts, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.
Amoah v. McKninny, November 13, 2017, U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Judicial Circuit.
More Blog Entries:
Filing a Boston Truck Accident Lawsuit, Sept. 28, 2017, Boston Car Accident Lawyer Blog