Petrillo & Goldberg Law Blog

Selection of expert witnesses in personal injury cases in Pennsylvania

Pursuant to a news article about expert witnesses in complex cases, parties may not enter into a settlement of a lawsuit until the issuance of reports or testimony by experts regarding knowledge held by an ordinary person and the expert. Expert testimony can be critical to the amount of damages a plaintiff in a personal injury case could secure in a settlement or at trial. The following advice is recommended when choosing an expert:

  • Examine resumes and look for credentials, such as the passage of challenging exams, and evaluation by one’s peers in the field that is involved in the lawsuit
  • Choose someone who did well as a witness in prior cases
  • Discover whether there are any conflicts between the witness and the parties to the lawsuit
  • Conduct an investigation of expert’s publications to determine whether there are any opposing views
  • Find out, and obtain an understanding of, the analysis the expert will use, and request whether it will comply with the criteria required for evidence to be admitted in court.

The criteria for being suitable as an expert witness are established by case law in Pennsylvania, specifically, Miller v. Brass Rail Tavern Inc., 541 Pa. 474 (1995). Anyone who possesses nearly any level of specialized knowledge can serve as an expert witness and give opinion testimony. Unlike regular witnesses, expert witnesses can provide opinion. Lay witnesses can give testimony in court on the basis of personal knowledge.
But in Pennsylvania, in a personal injury case that arises from medical malpractice, §512of the MCARE Act is controlling as to whether an expert witness qualified to provide testimony against physicians. Professional liability lawsuits against other health care professionals are not governed by §512.

In personal injury cases, usually negligence is based on whether the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, and the defendant breached a duty of care. In the event of a special relationship between the defendant and plaintiff, the standard of care can be determined by whether the services provided by the defendant were below the standard of care that is considered reasonable by other members of the profession. Expert testimony can establish what is accepted as the reasonable standard of care, and can offer insight as to how other members of the profession would have acted under like circumstances.