Finding the right expert

August 1, 2008 By    

When your company is faced with a catastrophic and/or complex claim or lawsuit, it is difficult to know what to do and where to turn.

John V. Mccoy
John V. Mccoy

One of the most important decisions that you need to make is to get the right technical experts on board as quickly as possible. This task is often more difficult than it might appear.

The casual observer would think there are a large group of experts that advertise their services for investigating fires and explosions and testifying as experts. I have met many an expert at an accident site, in deposition or at trial who were not very knowledgeable about their claimed area of expertise. This is something that can go undetected to the untrained observer, someone not schooled in the legal arena and not knowledgeable about the propane industry.

There are many different kinds of experts, and each case needs to be sufficiently understood so that the correct expert team is compiled.

For instance, on liability, a given case may require an expert in origin and cause, metallurgy, odorants, industry codes and custom and practice and warnings just on the liability issues.

On the damages side of the case, there is a need for a wide variety of experts on medical care both past and future, life-care plans, vocational rehabilitation and economists for loss of future earning capacity.

When selecting an expert, it is important to know his experience in propane-related claims and litigation. Too often I have seen consultants who claim to be experts in this area of the law do a great disservice to their clients because they were not what they represented to be and, in the end, gave bad advice or testimony that hurt their client’s case.

Experts who have earned the reputation of being who they say they are find themselves in high demand. This is justifiably so as the expert can often make or break a case in a significant way.

In addition to the technical expertise that an expert brings to the table, his most important asset is the ability to communicate any opinions he may formulate about the case to the opposing parties and, most importantly, the judge and jury.

There have been many cases I have been involved with where an expert wrote an outstanding report but when examined on that report failed to express those same opinions to the fact finder in a persuasive way.

The manner in which an expert is examined is grueling. Some experts are simply better than others at understanding how to stay on their message and communicate this message to the jury.

In high-profile cases, early retention of your team of lawyers and experts is vital. With a small universe of tried and true experts in the field, it is well known that the best are snapped up quickly – usually well before a lawsuit is filed.

Failure to get the right team together can impact the outcome of a lawsuit.

So, if you know of a potential claim, it is important to get your team together before you get official notice. This is done for many reasons, not the least of which is to be sure your “A” team is on board in the event you are put on notice of a claim or lawsuit at a later date.

John V. McCoy is the president of McCoy & Hofbauer, S.C. and specializes in the representation of propane companies. He can be reached at 800-599-8300 or

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