Wednesday, 31 August 2005 10:00

Do you have what it takes to become an expert witness?

Written by Dick Strom

A recent article on the qualifications and rewards of being an expert witness, written by Patrick Yurek (6/05 BodyShop Business magazine, Putting The "Expert" In Witness), gives some food for thought to those interested in entering the rapidly growing "expert witness" field. It is also food for thought for those who have thus far gotten away with inferior or deficient repairs, and for certain insurers who encourage shops to cheat. 

Yurek describes how "…using your repair knowledge in the courtroom, you can make upward of $150 an hour - and educate and protect consumers at the same time." Following are some of the highlights and qualifications Yurek says are required of an expert witness

One highlight of being an expert witness is the ability of an automotive expert to assist jurors in untangling misconceptions they might have concerning collision repair. Explains Yurek, "One of the biggest reasons people offer their services as an expert is for the money, but imagine someone who doesn't know about automobiles trying to decide exactly what the truth is? An expert can help clarify issues and expose the truth… leveling the playing field" for those who have less knowledge of the intricacies of automotive repair and courtroom savvy, and for groups such as the elderly and the young which tend to be taken advantage of."

Who hires expert witnesses?

Attorneys, who generally know little to nothing about automobiles, can save untold dollars and time by hiring expert witnesses, critical in cases that are otherwise going to be hard to win. "Smart attorneys rely on unbiased, professional consultation from experts to guide them."

Consumers also hire expert witnesses. As autos become increasingly more complicated, and the potential for great loss of money and structural soundness of the vehicle take center stage, so increases the need for expert witnesses performing "post-repair inspections" and "diminished value evaluations." Even judges can be misled by the opposing counsel. Expert witnesses can keep the trial proceedings in proper context.

Components of an expert witness

Yurek continues that being an expert witness involves "…being part detective, part author, part lecturer, part teacher and part actor. You don't have to be an expert in any of these fields, but you do need to be capable in all of them. You need to be a good enough detective to uncover the facts, which is exactly what post-repair inspectors and independent vehicle examiners do.

"You need to be able to clearly write a report of your findings - and remember, a lot of attorneys want you to talk to them before you write the report. The lecturer and teacher part go hand in hand when it comes to educating the judge or jury since you need to be able to deliver your thoughts clearly. For example, you don't want to use terms like R&I. You need to spell everything out for the judge and jury since they may not know anything about collision repair.

"The actor part comes into play as far as making others believe you're comfortable when you're not, remaining calm when you're angry and demonstrating things with your hands or, in some cases, with props. You also need the ability to think fairly quickly and to listen to what the attorney is asking while recognizing what he's not asking and where he might be headed with a particular line of questioning.

Qualifying as an expert

In order to testify as an expert witness, the attorney on the side you are testifying for must convince the judge that you are qualified to render expert testimony. The other side may not agree, and your qualifications can be subject to harsh scrutiny.

"You need to have the ability to demonstrate mastery of the subject," says Yurek. "You need to look and sound like an expert…you have to be believable and credible. And you have to be prepared both physically (having your facts and information organized and ready), and prepared mentally. You need to prepare the attorney as well. And you should point out to the attorney the strengths and weaknesses of the case."

If you are interested in learning more about becoming an expert witness, give The Coalition for Collision Repair Excellence (CCRE) a call at (877) 700-7743. Contact Patrick Yurek at (704) 821-4190 or at info@CollisionConsulting.com.

Dick Strom, Modern Collision Rebuild, 9270 Miller Road, NE, Bainbridge Island, Washington 98110; (206) 842-3621; e-mail: moderncol@qwest.net.