How Expert Witnesses Can Impact Wrongful Death Cases

by Staff Blogger | January 22nd, 2024

Wrongful death cases are complex legal matters that rely on subtle details and thorough legal arguments. These cases arise when a person’s death is caused by the negligence or misconduct of another party, leaving the bereaved family seeking justice and compensation for their loss.

In this emotionally and legally challenging situation, expert witnesses can offer specialized insights that influence the outcome of your case. Their testimony often clarifies complex issues and helps establish liability, causation, and damages.

Our California wrongful death attorneys at Berg Injury Lawyers can use expert witness testimony to support your wrongful death claim and help you receive compensation for the death of your loved one.

What Is a Wrongful Death Case?

A wrongful death case is a legal action taken by the survivors of an individual who has died due to the wrongful act, negligence, or misconduct of another. These cases originate from various incidents, including medical malpractice, car accidents, workplace accidents, or slip and fall injuries.

They allow the family to receive compensation for funeral expenses, loss of companionship or guidance, and medical costs related to the decedent’s care.

The complexity of these cases often lies in proving that the defendant’s actions caused the death and determining the appropriate compensation for the survivors’ loss. Expert witnesses help establish these connections by reviewing evidence and offering insights based on their training, background, and experience in their field.

Types of Expert Witnesses

In wrongful death cases, several types of expert witnesses may be called upon to provide their specialized knowledge. These experts help construct a comprehensive understanding of the incident, contributing to a stronger case for the plaintiff or a solid defense for the accused.

  • Medical experts: Medical experts are often essential in wrongful death cases, especially those involving medical malpractice or complicated health-related issues. These experts provide insights into whether proper medical standards were followed and if negligence contributed to the death. They help establish a clear link between the defendant’s actions and the death.
  • Accident reconstruction specialists: In car accidents or workplace incidents, accident reconstruction specialists use their expertise to recreate the circumstances of the incident. They often use physical evidence and scientific principles to determine the cause and sequence of events leading to the fatality.
  • Forensic pathologists: Forensic pathologists help determine the exact cause of death. Their analysis can identify whether the death was a direct result of the defendant’s actions or if other factors were involved. This testimony establishes a causal link between the defendant’s actions and the death.
  • Economists: Economists are often called upon to assess the financial impact of the death on the surviving family members. They calculate the loss of income, benefits, and other financial contributions the deceased would have provided based on numerical data from employment or tax records. This helps determine the appropriate amount of compensation for the family.

Selecting and Qualifying Expert Witnesses

The plaintiff and defendant are responsible for selecting and qualifying expert witnesses in legal proceedings. The qualification process includes guidelines in California Evidence Code 720:

  • Assessing the expert’s educational background and area of specialization
  • Evaluating their professional experience and practical expertise
  • Examining any previous publications or research contributions
  • Reviewing their history of prior testimony or legal involvement

Once an expert is qualified, the approach to presenting their testimony varies between plaintiffs and defendants. Plaintiffs often leverage expert testimony to solidify the foundational aspects of their case, like demonstrating causation or quantifying damages. This is done by gathering the expert’s detailed analysis to reinforce their arguments in a deposition or live testimony.

Defendants frequently engage expert witnesses to challenge or debunk the plaintiff’s assertions. Their focus might be on questioning the accuracy or methodology of the plaintiff’s expert findings, offering different interpretations or conclusions.

The impact of expert testimony often depends on the expert’s skill in clearly and effectively communicating complex concepts. Effective expert witnesses combine easy-to-understand presentation skills with in-depth technical expertise.

Real-Life Wrongful Death Case Examples

The following case examples demonstrate the impact of expert testimony on the outcome of a wrongful death lawsuit. They provide insight into various scenarios where the involvement of expert witnesses played a pivotal role.

Nicholas S. Cohen v. Lake Worth Enterprise, LLC et al.

In this case, the expert witnesses helped determine a favorable outcome for the deceased’s family. The plaintiff’s experts in urology and nursing testified that Michelle Cohen’s death from complications related to a urinary tract infection could have been prevented with earlier treatment.

They argued that the nursing staff at Oasis Health and Rehabilitation Center failed to investigate and treat her symptoms properly, leading to her death. The defense’s geriatrics expert argued the facility acted appropriately.

Ultimately, the jury sided with the plaintiff, awarding $1,758,230 in damages, thanks to the expert’s testimony highlighting the negligence in Cohen’s care and treatment.

Kelli A. Andrews v. Jeffrey Gelfand, M.D. et al.

In this wrongful death case, expert testimony was crucial in securing a $1.9 million verdict for the plaintiffs. The case centered on Dr. Gelfand’s failure to diagnose and treat William Andrews for deep vein thrombosis, leading to his death from a pulmonary embolism.

The plaintiff’s experts in critical care, orthopedic surgery, and internal medicine, along with an economics expert, provided key insights into Mr. Andrews’ medical condition and the financial impact of his death. These experts argued that proper risk assessment and treatment could have prevented the fatal embolism.

Despite a mistrial in the first trial, the retrial resulted in a unanimous jury verdict favoring the plaintiffs. This was influenced by the compelling arguments and evidence presented by their expert witnesses.

Expert Testimony: A Decisive Factor in Wrongful Death Case Verdicts

In wrongful death cases, expert witnesses are more than just informative voices; they are crucial contributors to the pursuit of justice and compensation. Their testimonies provide the technical base needed to support or challenge the key elements of these complex and emotionally charged cases.

If you’ve recently lost a loved one due to another’s negligence, contact our wrongful death attorneys at Berg Injury Lawyer today. We can meet with you during a free, confidential consultation to discuss your case.