When a personal injury case goes to court, there are a variety of people who are likely going to get up on the stand and give statements or answer questions in front of the jury. These witnesses might have been involved in or present for the accident, or sometimes, might not have any direct correlation to the accident at all. Instead, they might be able to provide personal or professional insights into the victim’s life that could be beneficial for the jury to know.
When it comes specifically to a case involving a traumatic brain injury (TBI), selecting and preparing the witnesses to put on the stand on behalf of our clients is a critical part of our process at Finney Injury Law. And because it’s so important to the case, that makes it equally important for our clients to understand.
Q: What kinds of witnesses can be involved in a trial?
A: There are three different types of witnesses that can be called to testify in a trial: eyewitnesses, expert witnesses, and lay witnesses (also sometimes referred to as character witnesses). Though all three types of witnesses are important to any personal injury case, when it comes to presenting a client’s TBI case in the courtroom, Finney Injury Law focuses primarily on expert witnesses and lay witnesses.
Q: What is an expert witness?
A: An expert witness is someone who is deemed as a qualified expert by their knowledge, skill experience, training, or education in a certain field related to the case at hand. Though they may have nothing to do with the accident itself, these experts are often able to provide valuable, factual information about the case in some regard. In the case of a TBI trial, such expert witnesses might include people like doctors who are particularly knowledgeable about brain injuries, cognitive therapists who can speak on what recovering from a TBI looks like, or even accident recreation experts who can explain how the initial accident led to the injury.
For such witness to be approved to appear in court, their professional insight must be deemed necessary for the jury to have in making their decision. You always want the jury to interpret evidence on its own and draw unbiased conclusions based on widely accepted facts and data, and expert witnesses are meant to help them achieve that.
Q: What is a lay witness?
A: In many ways, a lay witness is quite opposite to an expert witness. Whereas an expert witness will have no personal connection to the victim or knowledge about their personal life, a lay witness is expected to have and speak on this personal insight about the victim. Most often, a lay witness at least personally knew the victim before the accident occurred. The most common and often most useful lay witnesses both knew the victim before the accident as well as have interacted with them after the accident. Their testimony is based on their rational perception of the victim and the way their characteristics or behavior might have changed after suffering a TBI.
Lay witnesses can often involve family members or close friends of the victim; those people who spend or have spent regular, ongoing time with the victim and can speak about their personality and what might now seem different about it. But sometimes, they don’t necessarily need to be someone who is considered “close” to the victim. For example, they could be a yoga instructor who has noticed the victim has stopped showing up for their weekly classes since the accident occurred. This simple observation can speak volumes about how a TBI victim’s daily life has changed.
Q: Why are lay witnesses so important to TBI trials?
A: Brain injuries can often do a lot more than just physical harm. When a person’s brain is injured, it has the ability to change the very way that person behaves. Though a TBI can certainly cause a variety of negative effects for the sufferer, such as paralysis, changes in speech, or the loss of any number of other bodily functions, it can also cause a change in personality. And when there’s a change in personality, it can alter the way that person lives their everyday life.
Lay witnesses are so important to presenting a TBI case because they can help to establish the true scope and reach of the injury suffered. If a husband gets on the stand to testify on behalf of his wife who has suffered a TBI, and tells the jury that her personality has entirely shifted away from the woman he married, it has a much different type of impact on the jury than, say, scientific testimony from a neurosurgeon about the behavior of brain tissue might have. Lay witness testimony has the power to demonstrate to the jury who the victim was prior to the accident, who they have become after the accident, and how that has affected their life overall.
Q: Aren’t lay witnesses going to be biased in favor of the victim?
A: Not necessarily, and we do everything we can to make sure the lay witnesses we prepare to appear in court will not be seen as biased. Because if they appear to the judge or the opposing counsel as biased in any way, their testimony could be deemed inadmissible, and thus have no bearing on the outcome of the case. That means their testimony is essentially wasted.
Lay witnesses are presented as unbiased by being instructed to only comment on observations they can rationally make about the person. In other words, they are not permitted to share emotions or give opinions about the person or the situation at hand, at least not intentionally. So, lay witnesses can only comment on things like changes in the victim’s physical appearance or changes in their manner of conduct. They may also be asked to make comparisons between how the victim behaved before their accident versus how they now behave after.
Q: How do you select or prepare your witnesses for trial?
A: Preparing expert witnesses for trial is a vastly different process than preparing lay witnesses for trial. In an effort to keep expert witnesses as unbiased as possible, they may often be paid for the time and effort they spend on getting to know the case, learning about the victim’s accident or injuries, and for going through the process of testifying. Such professionals are often vetted and selected through our firm’s vast connections, and after doing intricate research into the value they can provide, as well as the credentials they come with.
Lay witnesses may involve less research or scrutiny to locate, but often require much more preparation in order to make sure their testimony is successful. That’s because it can be incredibly difficult for someone who knows the victim on a personal level to speak about that person after such a traumatic experience. Similarly, it can be difficult for the victim to hear a close person talk about how they’ve changed. That’s why our team handles these witnesses with an abundance of care and compassion.
We conduct our interviews away from the victim so witnesses can speak freely. We may even pre-record such interviews to play for the jury in lieu of live testimony when appropriate. But the reality is that almost nothing is more powerful than live testimony from a lay witness, and so we always do our absolute best to make sure such people are as prepared as they possibly can be.