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How to choose the right expert in a construction defect case

Construction defect disputes often involve highly technical issues. This is especially true of those that end up in hotly contested, high-stakes litigation, since black-and-white cases tend to get settled early on.

Experts play a critical role in these cases. Jurors (and judges) typically have little to no experience in construction. And when seemingly minute details can make all the difference in cases such as these, it's no surprise that trial often turns into a battle of experts. Choosing the right expert is thus foundational to a successful case.

Which type of expert to hire?

Should you enlist an architect? Engineer? Tradesperson? The answer will depend on the nature of the claim. Design defects typically require the opinion of an architect or engineer, whereas defective workmanship claims may require a tradesperson, and defective materials claims may require a chemical engineer, metallurgist or other specialists.

Many complex defect claims require multiple experts. A multidisciplinary approach is essential for painting a complete picture that addresses the claim from every angle.

What to look for in an expert witness

Qualifying an expert witness in court requires presenting sufficient credentials - licensure, experience, education, professional reputation, speaking engagements, publications and the like. Put simply, the expert must know what they're talking about.

But that's not all. Someone with a strong background on paper may nonetheless crumble under cross-examination, or alienate the jury by speaking in what may as well be another language. Vetting an expert witness requires interviewing them in-person and observing how they communicate. Are they personable and relatable? Can they hold up under the pressure of the courtroom? Can they speak with credibility and confidence? And can translate complex and highly technical information into an explanation that's readily understandable to the average layperson?

Establishing credibility

Many experts testify in court regularly. As a result, they may have the professional background and communication skills to be a star witness. However, their courtroom experience could actually backfire: it might undermine their credibility.

This is because, to be convincing, an expert must be objective. They must not appear to be a mere mouthpiece for the party who hired them.

Ensuring objectivity involves taking a thorough look at the expert's track record. Have they said anything in previous cases (whether in court, depositions or affidavits) that might conflict with their current stance? Do they have a record of testifying for only one side? Or are they balanced in having testified for both plaintiffs and defendants across multiple cases?

The value of a strong expert

While not advocates, experts can still play a valuable role in the entire litigation process, even before stepping foot in a courtroom. They can pinpoint issues that require further investigation and identify helpful evidence. They can anticipate weaknesses in the opposing experts' opinions and shore up potential shortcomings in their own.

In sum, choosing the right expert is an indispensable part of building a strong case. The first step is to find an attorney who not only understands the niche area of construction defect law, but who also has experience working with experts in various fields - and who knows how to select the right experts for your particular case.

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