Work hard, gain knowledge, get a good reputation, become an expert witness. That's the sequence a number of technical people in the rubber industry follow to enter a very lucrative field—giving testimony in product liability cases. For a hefty fee, of course.
The job could become more difficult for these hired guns, depending on how the U.S. Supreme Court rules in a tire failure case it will review.
The issue arises from a lawsuit against Kumho Tire U.S.A. Inc. A 1993 minivan accident in Alabama caused by a tire blowout killed one child and injured several family members. The case hinged on whether the tire was defective: Kumho won the decision, lost on appeal and took it to the high court.
The point the Supreme Court will decide is whether a non-scientific expert witness in a product liability case should be held to the same stringent standards required of scientific experts. The plaintiffs in the Alabama case used a former tire engineer as an expert witness. He opined the tire was defective based on photographs and his previous experience as a Michelin employee.
Kumho argued that isn't good enough. We agree.
An attorney for a plaintiff or defendant always can find someone with technical credentials to testify ``properly''—meaning, giving an opinion favorable to their case. That is advocacy, not truth-seeking.
It's unfair when a lawyer drags out an expert witness' credentials, rather than utilize scientific fact, to win over the jury. Just as it's not right when an effective plaintiff's attorney milks the emotional aspects of a case to win a jury's sympathy. At least the former inequity soon could be rectified.