By: Karen Piso Nadeau, Esquire
When someone is seriously injured in an accident in Massachusetts with an expectation of permanent and lifelong injuries requiring medical care into the foreseeable future and perhaps an inability to return to their employment and work, we consider the benefit of retaining experts on their case. Experts are people who have authoritative knowledge or skill in a particular subject area. In deciding whether an expert would be beneficial to the case, we begin with the understanding that every client is unique, and every accident scenario is different. After learning about how the accident occurred and understanding the nature and extent of the injuries and the impact on the victim and their family, only then can we consider the benefit of retaining an expert or multiple experts on their case.
This blog will explore some of the types of experts used in a personal injury case when a client has been badly harmed in an accident in Massachusetts. When the right experts are strategically retained to assist on a case, the expert’s opinion is a powerful tool to successfully get an injured person and their family the money they need and deserve to move on, after suffering a devastating injury due to another’s wrongdoing.
An accident reconstructionist is an expert who has knowledge and experience recreating or reconstructing how an accident occurred. Some car accidents have people disagreeing about accident events and how the accident occurred. An accident reconstructionist looks at factors such as the property damage on the vehicles, skid marks in the roadway, the position of the vehicles when they come to rest after the accident, the location of debris in the road from the accident among other things. Sometimes there is the black box from the vehicle available that records information about the vehicle’s operation prior to and at impact. The black box, officially known as the event data recorder, is an electronic device recording information. The black box gathers driving information about the vehicle before, during and after a crash. It captures things like speed, braking, acceleration, and steering. An accident reconstructionist has the expertise to analyze the black box data and the information preserved.
An accident reconstructionist can calculate the speed of vehicles prior to the accident. They can recreate how the vehicles traveled and where the cars were prior to the crash and at the time of the accident. When an insurance company contests liability-meaning the insurance company denies their insured driver was speeding for example, or in other respects denies their insured is responsible for the accident, an accident reconstructionist may be very helpful in proving our client, the injured party, was not negligent and it was the other driver who was careless and failed to drive safely. In some of our cases, we would not have recovered any money for our client without having the opinion of an accident reconstructionist.
In wrongful death cases, the deceased victim can’t tell their story and give their version of what happened to cause the accident. They can’t say that the other vehicle was on the wrong side of the road, or the other vehicle was speeding for example. We have successfully retained an accident reconstructionist on cases to prove the other driver was at fault. Often, the driver that causes the death of a victim will deny that they were at fault or even blame the deceased victim. In these cases, an accident reconstructionist can be invaluable in speaking for the victim who is deceased.
Engineers & Architects
Retaining engineers and architects as experts in some of our cases involving trip and falls and other accidents has assisted us in having a respected professional explain the dangerous conditions that caused our client to fall. The need for railings on a staircase or the excessive height of a step or inadequate lighting conditions are examples of the subject matter in which an engineer and architect may give an expert opinion. These experts may address building code violations on a property whether it be a house or business. Construction safety, building safety, and inspecting stairs, ramps and walkways are some of the areas that engineers and architects may provide their expertise to assist in establishing the unsafe and dangerous conditions that may have cause our client to slip or trip or otherwise become injured through no fault of their own.
Again, like car crashes where the insurance company is looking to deny the victim any money, premise liability cases are similar. Where our client is injured on someone else’s property, the insurance company representing the homeowner or business, or landlord or construction company is looking for any reason to deny the claim for compensation. Having a qualified expert such as licensed architect or engineer that provides an expert opinion as to the code violations, safety rules violated, and the dangerous conditions that caused the injuries to our client has proven to be very beneficial to the cases with great monetary results for our clients.
Doctors may be retained on personal injury cases to help explain the harm caused to our client and the medicine that applies to their case. The injuries, diagnosis, prognosis, expected course of medical care, and future medical needs are all relevant pieces to determining the value of a client’s injury case. On a case involving a construction worker’s shoulder injury, an orthopedic surgeon retained as an expert can give an opinion as to what it means to have a rotator cuff tear, the need for surgery, the permanent nature of the injury and the disability resulting in the injured construction worker’s inability to work as a laborer, for example.
On another case, a client had a neck surgery following a car accident. The insurance company raised our client’s prior neck injury and prior neck issues were the real reason for his surgery. We retained a neurosurgeon who reviewed our client’s past medical history and examined our client in person and then provided a powerful opinion that our client’s neck surgery was due to the car crash and not from pre-existing conditions. This led to our client receiving a substantial amount of money from the insurance company and the insurance company was forced to pay their insurance policy limits on the case.
Depending on the nature of the injury, we consider the type of doctor and specialty needed for the case. For example, with a head injury, we may retain a neurologist and or neuropsychologist. With a hip injury requiring surgery, we consider an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in hip injuries. Having a well-respected medical doctor as an expert can prove invaluable for us to obtain the best result for our client.
Vocational experts have specialized knowledge and training relating to rehabilitation following an accident. Vocational experts determine the manner in which an injured person’s medical impairments create vocational handicaps and the impact those handicaps have on a client’s vocational options and earning capacity. Typically, a vocational expert meets with our injured client and reviews their background, education, and earnings information. They use their expertise and vocational data to provide an opinion relating to our client’s ability to return to the job market following a devastating injury. The vocational expert often reviews medical documents, tax returns, and social security statements in evaluating the case.
Vocational experts have knowledge and information on the types of jobs our client may be employed in, the salaries for those jobs, and the skills needed to perform the job. Vocational experts may provide an opinion on our client’s permanent impairment of function that creates vocational handicaps diminishing their ability to engage in employment in the labor market. We have used vocational experts to provide yearly earning capacity for our client. Ultimately, a vocational expert may provide a vocational opinion that the injured client would be unable to return to his prior work as well as work life expectancy. The vocational expert assists in establishing the loss of income due to a client’s injury making them incapable of returning to work.
On one case, we retained a vocational expert to assess our client’s ability to return to work as a delivery driver after suffering a neck injury in a car crash. The vocational expert provided a strong opinion for the case that our client would be unable to return to his prior work as a delivery driver and also provided the remaining number of years he was expected to work and average yearly wages. Having a qualified expert provide an opinion on the total loss of earnings may add hundreds of thousands of dollars in value to a case as it did for this delivery driver.
Life Care Planner
A life care planner may be retained on a personal injury case to provide an expert opinion that outlines the costs for future medical needs that a client will need for the rest of their life. When a client is seriously injured in an accident, they may require medical care from various disciplines for the rest of their life. For example, a paraplegic client may require physical therapy, occupational therapy, at home nursing care, doctor’ s visits, anticipated hospitalizations and various equipment for the rest of their lives. Life care planners can provide the anticipated medical needs and number of years the injured party may require these services. The life care planner may provide the average costs for such care and the anticipated total costs over the course of the injured party’s life. Again, this may be hundreds of thousands in added value to a case.
An economist is an expert who studies economics. An economist analyzes economic issues and in the setting of a personal injury case, an economist provides an expert opinion as to the loss of earning capacity suffered by a person injured in an accident and may also calculate future medical care needs for an injured party. An economist retained on a personal injury case uses the standard methodology used by economists to determine the present value of economic loss of earning capacity based on private and public data available. Economists review our client’s tax returns and annual social security statement as well as medical documents. Economists rely upon the vocational expert’s findings and opinions. Economists see earning capacity as the earnings an individual, by virtue of training, experience, and education, had the capability of earning, but for the injury. An economist will determine the injured party’s work life capacity based on data available. An economist will provide loss of earning capacity in present value terms.
In a case involving a truck driver in his 50’s who earned about $50,000.00 a year and was permanently disabled from his job, our expert economist provided an analysis that our client’s present day value loss of earning capacity was approximately $500,000.00. This expert opinion supported by a well-respected economist was strong support for our client’s lost wage claim leaving the insurance company little wiggle room to escape paying a substantial sum of money as compensation.
Similarly, an expert economist analyzes the future medical care costs of a client seriously injured in an accident and determines the future medical costs in present value terms. The economist will determine the medical care costs in the base year and assess an injured party’s life expectancy. The economist will factor in annual increases in medical expenses and put the future costs in present day value. The economist will rely upon the life care plan of the life care expert in reaching their conclusions. Again, future medical care needs in present day value may be hundreds of thousands of dollars added value to a client’s case.
Having the total present day value of future lost earnings or future medical needs supported by experts who have evaluated our client’s case has proven to add very significant value to a case and very strong support for resolving their case for the highest possible amount.
Considerations in Deciding to Retain Expert Witnesses on a Case
The decision to retain any expert witnesses on a victim’s personal injury case is based upon careful analysis of the client’s specific circumstances. Looking first to how the accident occurred, we consider if an expert is needed to give an opinion on liability- meaning, an opinion that helps show the responsible person or entity that harmed our client is negligent and holding the wrongdoer accountable for the harm caused, usually through their insurance company. Some cases do not need an expert as to liability to help prove who is negligent for the harm caused. For example, if you are rear-ended while stopped, then it is unlikely there will be a disagreement with the insurance company as to who is at fault. Other cases that are contested by the insurance company may benefit from an accident reconstructionist or architect as an expert witness.
Also, we look at the injuries and medical needs to determine if the case may benefit from a medical expert. We also look at the lost wages and how extensive the disability is. This assists in considering the need for vocational experts or life care plan or an economist. One other major consideration that cannot be overlooked is the costs of experts and value added to the case. Experts don’t come cheap. It is not unusual for some experts to get retainers in the range of $2,500 to $5,000 to start. A careful analysis of several factors must be undertaken such as the amount of insurance available, the ability to collect the compensation the client deserves, and an estimate of case value. Where a client has suffered serious disabling personal injuries and there is a lot of insurance to cover the loss and compensate the injured victim, experts are some of the most powerful ammunition in a personal injury case to hold the negligent parties responsible and get our clients the money they and their families need and deserve to move on with their lives.
When someone is injured in a wrongful death, motor vehicle accident, trip and fall, dog bite, construction site or through any other accident, a thorough investigation of the accident events is necessary to determine the cause of the accident and secure important information. As a victim of an accident, make sure everything is done to protect your interests. The lawyers at Nadeau Harkavy LLC have over 50 years combined experience helping victims and their families recover compensation in serious injury and wrongful death cases arising from car crashes and other accidents. If you have any questions about your legal rights relating to a wrongful death, car accident, pedestrian accident, motorcycle accident, bicycle accident, slip and fall, trip and fall or other accident, feel free to contact us for a free consult today at 617-674-7640.