Those familiar with Robert Heinlein’s work, Stranger in a Strange Land will instantly recognize this excerpt:
Jubal called out, “That new house on the far hilltop – can you see what color they’ve painted it?”
Anne looked in the direction in which Jubal was pointing and answered, “It’s white on this side.” She did not inquire why Jubal had asked, nor make any comment.
Jubal went on to Jill in normal tones. “You see? Anne is so thoroughly indoctrinated that it doesn’t even occur to her to infer that the other side is probably white too. All the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t force her to commit herself as to the far side . . . unless she herself went around to the other side and looked – and even then she wouldn’t assume that it stayed whatever color it might be after she left… because they might repaint it as soon as she turned her back.
This is an overly-simplified description of an expert witness’ job. Expert witnesses perform much like Heinlein’s fair witnesses in that they offer completely impartial testimony of “what is” based on observable facts and subject matter expertise. A landscape or certified arborist expert witness testimony may be the key item to a finding of liability, standard of care and/or computation of damages. A landscape or arborist expert is able to provide key details that other percipient witnesses are unable to deliver. There is no supposition, merely fact, backed by knowledge and experience. As a landscape arborist expert witness, technical, horticultural and arboricultural knowledge and experience assist the judge or jury in their deliberations.
This in an important consideration in the decision to use an expert witness. Qualification is no easy matter; our credentials are examined during deposition and during testimony, as is any related experience relevant to the issue at hand. By the time an expert witness is qualified, the court has, in effect, made a strong statement as to the value of that witness’ testimony.
As a non-arborist example, there was a recent case in Pennsylvania that resulted in a $109 million jury verdict. Expert testimony proved to be the lynch pin of that decision. At issue was the wrongful death of a plaintiff as she was calling 911 to report trees on fire from downed power lines. The defendant energy company stated that the line that electrocuted the plaintiff was on the ground (which could lead to a conclusion of plaintiff negligence).
The expert witness for the plaintiffs family testified that, based on the location of the burns on the victim’s body, the line was overhead and fell on the victim. The plaintiff’s expert witness was a PhD biomechanical engineer, an accident reconstruction specialist, and had testified in several multi-million dollar verdict cases. She based her testimony upon photographs of the scene, depositions of witnesses, and a site visit, among other things. Her testimony contributed to the verdict for the plaintiff’s family.
My job as an expert witness is not to assume that the far side of the house is white, but rather, to prove – via solid evidence and expert knowledge – that the side in question can’t be any color other than white.