Sometimes, the causes and results of a vehicle collision are easy to understand. Take this example:
- Driver YZ failed to stop at the red light
- YZ’s car crashed into the victim BC’s car in the intersection
- BC’s car was damaged
- BC suffered a broken arm during the crash
That case is reasonably easy to understand. Under those circumstances, if the case proceeds to trial, the judge and jury are able to understand the events and understand that the broken arm and damage to the vehicle was caused by the running of the red light by the at-fault driver.
However, many other accidents — and personal injury cases — are not so easy to understand. In those cases, a Georgia auto accident attorneys will hire an expert witness or two to explain the complicated aspects of your case. Here is a quick primer on the circumstances under which expert witnesses are needed in auto accident cases.
What is an Expert Witness?
In general, there are two types of witnesses: eye-witnesses (also called fact witnesses) and expert witnesses. As the name suggests, an eye-witness is a witness who saw or otherwise has personal knowledge of the events. That is, these are witnesses who were involved in the event or have other sensory perception of the event and can testify based on those personal perceptions. In our example above, both drivers would be eye-witnesses.
However, a Georgia auto accident does not “end” when the vehicles stop moving. In many respects, that is just the start since other legally relevant events begin to occur such as the arrival of the ambulance and the police, the provision of medical care and more. Individuals involved in these post-accident events are also eye-witnesses. These would include the emergency room physician and the mechanic at the repair shop.
By contrast, an expert witness is an individual who — in general — did not personally experience any of the events that took place. This is not always the case. For example, often a treating physician may be an eye-witness and also be an expert witness. However, most hired expert witnesses rely on the reports made by others about what happened in the car accident. Either way, all experts must have specific technical knowledge or training or experience in a particular field of study to be qualified to testify at trial.
When are Experts Needed?
With respect to a car accident, an expert witness might be needed for one of several aspects of the case. If a person has been injured in an auto accident in Georgia, that person can sue under legal theories of negligence and recover money damages from the wrongdoer. To prove negligence, the victim must show the standard four elements: (1) duty, (2) breach of duty by the at-fault driver, (3) causation and (4) injury/property damage.
An expert witness can be used to help with any of these elements. However, with auto accidents, often the first element — duty — is not difficult to prove. Every driver has a duty to use ordinary care while driving to avoid injuring others, to be watchful of others using the road, to obey traffic laws, etc. The second element — breach of duty — is also often easy to prove. Thus, in our example above, the driver YZ who ran the red light had a duty to obey traffic signals and, when YZ failed to stop for the red light, he breached his duty.
However, sometimes duty and breach are legally complicated. Imagine that we change the example above and assume that YZ had a sudden medical emergency — he lost consciousness — or maybe there was a general sudden emergency like his brakes suddenly stopped working. In Georgia, there is a legal rule called the “sudden emergency doctrine” whereby a driver is not held liable in negligence if:
- There is a sudden emergency and
- The sudden emergency is not caused by the driver and
- Because of the lack of time in which to form a judgment, the driver acted as best he or she could