The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals released a decision last month that affirmed a lower court’s judgment that threw out a case against the owners of an Indiana amusement park because of the plaintiff's failure to comply with the expert witness and disclosure requirements before the trial was to take place. The plaintiff in the case of Higgins v. Koch Development Corporation filed suit based on a 2010 incident when an electrical failure at an Indiana amusement park owned and operated by the defendants resulted in a release of chlorine gas into the air, which allegedly resulted in the plaintiff suffering from chronic pulmonary problems that have left him with long-term disabilities.
The trial court granted judgment to the defendants because the plaintiff failed to offer a suitable expert witness to demonstrate that the chlorine exposure was the cause of the plaintiff's long-term injuries. The plaintiff appealed the ruling to the Seventh Circuit, arguing that he did propose an expert who could sufficiently testify as to the causation issue, and alternatively that he shouldn't need any expert to prove that inhaling chlorine gas would cause pulmonary problems.
Illinois and Indiana Expert Witness Requirements
Injury and negligence cases in Illinois and Indiana do not always require an approved expert to be heard by the jury. In cases when an average juror without any specialized knowledge could conclude that the initial act resulted in the claimed injury or condition, an expert is not needed. For example, if a plaintiff is punched in the face by the defendant and suffers a broken nose, an expert is likelyÂ not necessary to demonstrate that facial trauma can result in a broken nose.
In cases that involve little-known medical conditions or chronic conditions that may have differing causes, however, an expert is usually needed. The Seventh Circuit, which hears appeals in both Illinois and Indiana, put it quite clearly: When there is no obvious origin to an injury and it has multiple possible etiologies, expert testimony is necessary to establish causation. The plaintiff, an obese man with pre-existing health problems, was alleging that inhalation of an unknown amount of chlorine gas in 2010 caused medical problems that are continuing to affect his life and have left him disabled. The trial court ruled that it was not obvious that the plaintiff's long-term injuries were caused by inhaling the chlorine, and a qualified expert was needed to prove causation. The Seventh Circuit agreed with the lower court's analysis and ruled that the plaintiff would need to have a court-approved expert testify as to the cause of his chronic pulmonary problems. As a result, the case will not be heard by the jury.
Experts Should Be Here to Help Plaintiffs, Not Hurt Them
It is unfortunate that the plaintiff in this case will not have his claims heard by a jury, and he will likely not recover any damages as a result of his injuries. The use of expert witnesses in personal injury and wrongful death cases in Illinois has assisted thousands upon thousands of plaintiffs in getting the compensation that they deserve as a result of a defendant's conduct. The proper expert can help educate a jury and convince them that the defendant's conduct was what caused the plaintiff's injuries in a way that almost no other testimony can. It is important for accident victims to consult with legal counsel who are familiar with the relevant expert requirements and know what experts to consult for each case.
Have You Been Injured?
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in an accident, the legal counsel you choose can make the difference between receiving compensation and leaving empty-handed. The Illinois personal injury and wrongful death attorneys at Cavanagh Law Group are experienced in using expert witnesses when we try our clients' cases, and we have helped our clients obtain fair compensation for their injuries as a result. Our experienced legal team can help prevent your case from being dismissed because of the failure to meet an expert witness requirement, and we will accurately advise you as to whether an expert witness is needed for your case. If you or a loved one has been injured or killed because of someone else's negligence, Cavanagh Law Group can improve your chances of recovering compensation from the responsible parties.