We attempt whenever possible to bring actual experimental evidence to support our positions as experts or to rebut other experts' views.While an expert may have amassed years of first hand expertise or may rely on scientific studies or literature, in many personal injury cases the issues are unique and previous knowledge may have limited applicability.For these cases, we have found that it is neither prohibitively expensive nor time consuming to conduct a tailor-made experiment to assist a jury.Here are some examples.
Traffic signage.In motor vehicle accidents or pedestrian accidents, the adequacy of traffic control signage can be an issue.For example, are school children crossing a busy street at greater risk if school zone signs or those designating the presence of a pedestrian crossing are missing, poorly placed or lacking in conspicuous colors or icons?On this very issue, we were once asked to evaluate whether a change in the background color of a school zone increased safety.Our field experiment found that it did not.(Nevertheless, the municipality changed the signs anyway!)In another oft-cited field experiment, we found that the "fatality" signs erected by a city had no impact on either motorist or pedestrian safety.
Warnings.We have served as experts in a number of shopping cart-related accidents and fatalities. Typically in these cases it has been argued that the accident would not have occurred if there were adequate warnings about the risks to children and parents were exhorted to be vigilant.In a very ambitious test of two different in-cart warning signs involving a number of grocery stores and hundreds of children and their parents, we found that safety was not increased by warning signs, regardless of the strength of the warning.While this may be counter-intuitive, it is reality.We have concluded that grocery cart safety can best occur with new cart designs that eliminate hazards for children.
Defective products.The value of an experimental approach is nicely illustrated in an early case, Rodriquez v. Albertson's, in Boulder, CO in 1991.A young child crawled from the child seat of an over-the-counter (OTC) type of grocery cart, stood up in the food basket, and fell.Plaintiff argued that this style of cart was inherently dangerous and that conventional deep-basket carts were safer. In preparing our testimony, we carried out a laboratory test of the two types of carts using actual parents and their young children.We found that there were no significant differences between the carts.The study was peer-reviewed and published, thereby adding greater credibility to our opinions and assisting the jury in finding for the defendant.The entire study was completed within a month, with a modest budget.
The benefits of our approach to witness testimony:
Rather than just speculating, an experiment can show how people actually react to a warning or use a product.
An experiment will counter so-called “commonsense” assumptions about warnings or product use.
An experiment provides objective, convincing arguments to support opinions or rebut the opposition.