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When is an Opinion Relevant in a Personal Injury Case?

For trial attorneys and personal injury lawyers like me, there is really no question about it: witnesses love to give their opinions. (Well, maybe I should say, people like to give their opinions.) And, I think we would all agree that opinions are often useful. It is helpful for us when an individual builds some credibility with us and then gives us his or her opinion on any one fact or situation; that is simply more efficient than reviewing every little fact ourselves and then forming our own opinion. However, trials are not designed for efficiency. They are designed so that the finders of fact, usually the jury, can review all of the relevant facts and evidence. It is the goal of jury trial design that the jury, not the witnesses, form a meaningful opinion.

For these reasons, the general rule is that a witness may not testify as to his or her opinion on questions of fact or law. The witness should testify as to his or her answer to a statement of fact rather than an inference or conclusion. This is a challenge of the trial attorney. Witnesses are often eager to express their opinion, but our system of justice is simply parsed into very neat components. The evidence and witnesses are gathered by each party's lawyer. Lawyers, through their witnesses, properly admit evidence and elicit testimony. It is the lawyer's job to get the evidence admitted so that the jury may ultimately form an opinion on the ultimate issue.

This is not to say that all attorneys do this well, or even properly. Witnesses can be difficult to control, and the testimony often comes out of the witness's mouth before the attorney can stop it. One thing that should never happen in a personal injury case or other negligence case is for an attorney to seek to elicit from a witness his or her opinion as to who is negligent and thereby responsible for the accident. That is an issue that should be left for the jury to determine. Even expert witnesses should not testify on the ultimate issue of negligence in the case. The facts should be set forth, arguments should be made by counsel, and the jury should be left to form an opinion.

Remember that in our American system of trial courts, facts, testimony, and evidence are only excluded as inadmissible if the opposing lawyer objects to their admissibility. That said, often irrelevant opinion evidence may become a part of the record. It may simply just not make any reasonable sense to object, as the trial attorney who constantly objects to the admissibility of evidence is generally viewed as a problem by the jury. So, there are questions like "Do you think Mr. Smith was negligent in this case?" which would clearly be objectionable. On the other hand, questions like "Is Mr. Smith a liar?" may be objectionable, but strategically, it may be an opposing lawyer's best interest to allow the question to be answered.

Obviously, properly admitting or excluding evidence in any Massachusetts personal injury or negligence matter is critical. The first step is always gathering the evidence, and that should be done as soon after the car accident or incident as possible. If you have been in such an accident and have suffered a personal injury, I recommend you speak with a competent lawyer at your earliest opportunity.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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