Is an Expert Witness’s Prior Relationship with an Insurance Company Admissible in a Virginia Personal Injury Case?

Virginia personal injury cases often involve the use of expert witnesses to lend further credibility to how an accident took place or the extent of a party’s injuries. Sometimes, however, these expert witnesses could be biased or appear to have an interest in the case that could significantly alter the presentation of accurate facts during trial.

In a recent Supreme Court of Virginia opinion, the court had to consider whether evidence of an expert witness’s financial relationship with an insurance company was admissible. Following a car accident where the plaintiff was hit from behind by the defendant’s vehicle, the plaintiff experienced significant physical pain in addition to increased anxiety and depression. After the collision, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant for $150,000 in damages.

The defendant’s auto insurance company retained an attorney to represent her in the case, who hired an orthopedic surgeon to serve as an expert witness. This expert witness previously worked with the attorney on numerous occasions and had been paid by the defendant’s insurance company for his services even though they did not directly hire him. During the trial, the plaintiff moved to introduce evidence of the expert witness’s previous relationship with the defendant’s attorney and auto insurance company. The lower court denied the plaintiff’s request, arguing that there was no direct relationship between the expert and the insurance company, so she could only introduce evidence of the expert’s previous work testifying on behalf of the attorney’s clients.

On appeal, the court sided with the plaintiff and stated that she should have been allowed to introduce evidence of the expert witness’s prior relationship with the insurance company. A direct relationship between the expert witness and the company, the court claimed, was not necessary. According to the court, proof of a substantial relationship is all that is necessary to establish that potential bias exists from the expert and is enough for the plaintiff to present the evidence.

In Virginia, establishing the presence of a substantial relationship between an insurer and an expert is focused on preventing and bringing to light potential bias that could arise because of the expert witness’s interest in the case. According to Virginia courts, it is not necessary that insurers directly hire expert witnesses to establish a substantial relationship. Based on other evidence, the court can assume that a substantial relationship is present.

For example, if an insurer retains an attorney who then retains an expert witness to testify on behalf of clients of the insurer, this may be enough to establish a substantial relationship between the insurer and witness. Further, if the insurer pays a considerable sum of money to the expert for favorable testimony for their clients, this could be enough to establish a substantial relationship. Based on previous rulings in Virginia, the receipt of a substantial amount of money by the insurance company’s witness is enough to create a potential for bias.

Do You Need a Virginia Personal Injury Attorney?

If you or someone you know has been recently injured in a Virginia car accident, contact the attorneys at Robinson Law, PLLC. The lawyers at our firm have successfully represented personal injury victims in all kinds of claims, and are dedicated to ensuring that you receive the compensation you deserve. To schedule a free consultation today, contact us at 703-649-4500.

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