March 28, 2013

Top 10 Expert Witness Qualifying Questions

Most attorneys have a standard list of questions they ask potential expert witnesses in their initial interview. How does the list below compare to your list?

1.      Do you have any relationship or conflicts of interest with any of the parties in this case?

2.      How many years of practical experience do you have in your field of expertise? Have you published any papers or received any patents in the last 5 years?

3.      How many times have you testified in court in the past 10 years?

4.      How do you safeguard sensitive case files on your laptop, tablet, or other mobile devices?

5.      How can your specific skill set help our case and how would you differentiate yourself from other candidates?

6.      What similar engagements have you worked on (without asking for confidential details) and challenges have you successfully tackled?

7.      Can you answer a technical question for me? (Assert a complex technical point, difficult for the untrained to understand. A good expert should be able to answer concisely using layman’s terms or a sound analogy. An expert whose answer is too technical may not make the best witness or consultant).

8.      Can you confirm the information contained in your CV / resume?

9.       Would you be willing to review a few non-confidential case documents and provide your insights? (See related article on this blog “Do you disclose case docs to potential experts?”)

10.  What additional information do you need from me to assess whether this engagement is a good  fit?

The CECON Group, Inc. has been providing technical expert witnesses to attorneys in science, engineering, and other technical fields for over 25 years. CECON has experts in more than 200 technical areas, such as Pharmaceutical, Chemistry, Composites, Bio-Technology, Regulatory Compliance, Medical Devices, and many more.


March 15, 2013

New Battery Technology: Will the possibilities be greater than the risks?

On the heels of the battery related safety incidents aboard  Boeing 787 Dreamliner airplanes (read more about this here) in January comes news that researchers at Stanford University have made groundbreaking progress in lithium-ion battery technology (read more here).

Creative problem solving led Stanford scientists to design a “yolk shell” energy storage system that may result in lithium-ion batteries with a much longer life than current technology allows.

So much of today’s technology is dependent upon rechargeable lithium-ion batteries; any advance in the technology can have an impact on everyday consumer gadgets. However, these new technologies can backfire if batteries overheat, as shown in the Dreamliner overheating. The exact cause of the Dreamliner overheating has not been isolated. Lithium-ion batteries have caused fires in laptop computers also.

While the yolk shell technology, which can store five times more energy than in current technology, is a wonderful advance in battery technology, will it carry its own set of risks?


March 1, 2013

Daubert Lessons Surface: How Do You Manage Your Case Strategy?

Near the end of 2012, a case where the plaintiff claimed exposure to industrial chemicals caused brain cancer in her husband led to a summary judgment in favor of the defendant. Testimony from the plaintiff’s expert, a physician, was excluded, and this was a significant blow to the plaintiff’s case. I will say up front that I don’t pretend to know all of the details of the case, but the verdict and public details served as a reminder for me of how the learnings from Daubert can still apply today.
The essence of why the judge excluded the expert’s testimony was a lack of evidence or stated proven methodology as to how the chemicals caused the cancer, and which specific chemical(s) were at fault.  As most professionals who elect to also be expert witnesses for legal cases are aware, the landmark  Daubert case (Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm. 1993) taught that a proposed expert must be qualified in a field relevant to the subject amateur under investigation and that his testimony must be based on scientific theory  that has been tested or peer reviewed within the scientific community.  According to the judge, despite the plaintiff citing a report that showed above average number of deaths from brain cancer where the husband worked, there was no specific chemical cited to which the husband was exposed that caused the death, and the expert did not state his reasoning as to why the husband died from exposure.

Again, I have neither insight to the plaintiff’s strategy nor do I know all of the details with this specific case, but as I read a report of the judgment, I was reminded how difficult - and how necessary -  it is to have the appropriate expert(s) on your team when preparing for a technical case.  We’ve seen similar cases where the judgment went in favor of the plaintiff, where statistical evidence had more significance than knowledge of the specific chemical involved (which reinforces why I’m glad I’m not a lawyer).  

This leads to the questions, “How do attorneys field a team of experts with complementary disciplines  and be prudent with their costs?  What strategies do you employ to minimize possible Daubert challenges?”

The author is with The CECON Group, Inc., which has been providing science, engineering, and technical experts to the legal community since 1985.