By Julie Brook, Esq. This material is reproduced from the CEB Blog®, Get Technical in Your Next Personal Injury Case, copyright 2014 by the Regents of the University of California. Reproduced with permission of Continuing Education of the Bar - California. (For information about CEB publications, telephone toll free 1-800-CEB-3444 or visit our Web site, CEB.com).
Feeling out of your element by the technical aspects of your personal injury case? Get a technical expert on your team. Here’s how technical experts can help in common personal injury cases, such as slip and fall, car accident, and product liability.
Technical experts can help you out before trial by helping develop the proper legal theory of your case, using scientific procedures to analyze and supply facts and information, and suggesting new avenues of discovery. And they also can be invaluable at trial by reducing complex matters to terms that jurors can understand, expressing their conclusions on relevant matters of liability, and demonstrating the validity of their analyses and conclusions.
Here are some of the ways in which technical experts can advance or rebut theories of liability in particular personal injury cases:
Vehicle collision cases. In motor vehicle collision cases, engineers and physicists can often:
Slip and fall cases. In slip and fall cases, experts can analyze the flooring, carpeting, pavement, stairway, or other surface on which someone fell and was injured, including its condition at the time of the accident. They typically study the shoes worn by the plaintiff and perform experiments to determine the coefficient of friction. They study lighting and maintenance conditions that might have created a hazard. They apply their knowledge of standards of planning, construction, and maintenance of the walking surface and of local ordinances and building standards governing construction and maintenance.
Product liability cases. Experts are used in most product liability cases to testify on defective design or construction of items such as vehicles, equipment, and containers. Only an expert can determine the effect of pressure, temperature, vibration, friction, and other stresses to which a particular item is exposed. Similarly, litigation over unsafe medications as a product usually require the testimony of technical experts. “Product” design liability also may extend to recreational areas and require the testimony of technical experts.
Explosion cases. In explosion cases (e.g., a natural gas line explosion in a residential area), experts can help determine and explain the physical forces that created the safety hazard and the standard of care that would have avoided it.
The next time you handle a personal injury case, considering getting a technical expert on board.