Stephen Vantassel here Wildlife control consultant, bringing you another episode of Living the Wildlife. I want to talk today about being an expert witness, what is an expert witness? Well, an expert witness is an individual that is contracted by typically by an attorney to provide superior background, knowledge, and insight about a particular discipline that the lawyer thinks will help his or her client, win or defend themselves in a specific legal proceeding. Wow. That sounds like a lot. It is, but in shorthand, as an expert witness, you are bringing your expertise, your knowledge, your background to help a defendant or plaintive make their case.
An illustration of being an expert witness in wildlife control
Let me give an illustration that might be the easiest way to go. Let’s say, you’re a homeowner and you hire X, Y, Z, wildlife control, to come to your property to control what you believe to be a raccoon or something in the attic. You don’t know X, Y, Z, wildlife control company comes out and says to you, there’s nothing you don’t have anything in your property, but you do have a hole in your vent up there. And we’re going to close that off for you and charge you $200.
You say, great. I don’t want anything getting in there, so you hire the company, and they go up there, and they close it off for $200 bucks you pay them, you’re on your way. Well, later that night, all of a sudden, you hear like sounds like a holy war occurring in your attic, the place is banging out so you go outside and your pajamas and you’re looking up, and you shine the light at the vent and what do you see? It’s a raccoon sticking her head out the vent that just got trashed that you paid $200 for and not only that there’s damage to the siding of the house now and so it’s even worse than before, but you also have a damaged dent vent and a damaged siding.
So you call the company X, Y, Z, wildlife control company up and you say, hey, you know I had a raccoon in the house, and the guy blows you off now you’re mad. Let me make a little side note here the fact is folks many lawsuits occur because the contractor failed to resolve the problem. After all, sometimes, the contract was a jerk. I’m not claiming that’s always the case; there are customers who simply set up contractors as a way to sue them and extort money, that indeed happens. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen; I’m just saying that many times I might even argue the majority, although I don’t have the stats on that. I would probably suggest that many times lawsuits occur because the contractor failed to resolve the mistake that the contractor made.
Most people don’t want to go through the trouble of having a lawsuit;
It’s a pain in the butt. But they do it because they’ve suffered significant losses or extremely angry at the way they were treated. Treat your customers fairly and the likelihood that you ever have to deal with a lawsuit pretty small. I’ve had situations in my career where I’ve made mistakes.
You fix the problem folks you want to avoid court, just fix the problem. Anyways, so now you the person, the customer felt shunned by the contractor and calls their lawyer and starts a lawsuit. The lawyer is now going to look for someone who is an expert witness to say; that company X, Y, Z failed to follow standard industry protocol on handling and inspecting that house and resolving the customer’s complaint. That the contractor didn’t do due diligence, and this is what the expert witness will be asked to do in that particular scenario.
That’s what the lawyer wants you to do, is to try to show that, hey, the contractor didn’t do what they were supposed to do, so that’s what an expert witness is all about. Now, understand that the defense in this case is probably going to want their own expert witness because they’re going to have their side of the story.
So you can see in situations where things aren’t so black and white, like I’ve just illustrated here, you’re going to have maybe opposing expert witnesses. But sometimes, you know one side is genuinely guilty; that’s just the way it is, but I’ve given a very slanted story, as you can probably tell.
So let’s say you’re interested in becoming an expert witness.
How do you become an expert witness? Well, it’s a two-phase two peace process. The first piece, of course, is you need to be an expert; you’d need to be someone who’s in the top 10 percent of your field. You need to be someone who’s considered a go-to person for wildlife control now, and there’s going to be a lot of those phases, you could be the top 10 percent, Marek, entrapping you could be the top 10 percent in bat control, you could be the top 10 percent and beaver control. Whatever the case may be, but you want to strive for excellence in that you are a thought leader within your particular discipline.
Now, does that require a degree?
Not necessarily. It depends I mean obviously if you’re interested in doing the lawsuits are going to be on lousy control, do we need someone who’s a Ph.D., is a Ph.D. even relevant? Would I instead if I was an attorney, and I’m not But if I was an attorney, would I rather have someone who had a Ph.D., or would I rather have someone who had 20 years of bat control experience? It would depend on the situation if the situation were, did this contractor handle the bat control properly? Then I’d probably want the person with 20 years of experience.
But if the case were diseases spread by bats, then I’d probably want someone who is Ph.D. or had some sort of medical degree to explain how zoonotic diseases are transmitted from bats to humans. So you can see that there are a lot of different ways to slice the expert witness pie. So that’s the first part being an expert, whatever that would take. So publications, speaking, training, getting training yourself, continually learning, being a person who has the prestige, and expertise in the industry in the particular field that you’re in.
Part two, the second aspect is simply chance. You have to have a situation where there is a lawsuit or some sort of conflict between people that need to be mediated, and the attorney has to find you. So there are some variables there, again wildlife control laws, related lawsuits are pretty rare still in the United States.
However, as the industry continues to mature and penetrate society, I suspect the demand for expert witnesses in the wildlife control field will continue to grow. But again, there aren’t going to be as many as necessary, let’s say for insects because there are fewer wildlife animal issues as opposed to insect issues. Nevertheless, there will be a growth area, in my opinion, in the coming years.
So you have to get found, there has to be a lawsuit, number one, and those are growing, but also, the lawyer has to see you, assuming that you are you’re an expert on the particular case. So how are you located? Well, there are web sites out there that actually act as a clearinghouse for expert witnesses and you can do a Google search on your own, find various expert witness clearinghouses and get your name registered and know ask you for things like a resume and your expertise and your academic background, have you done this before, What your fee rate, where are you located, all that kind of stuff, that is something you can do all on your own.
So if you’re interested in becoming an expert witness.
Be an expert continue to strive may take years and then get your name out there. Volunteer for things become members of associations get into leadership positions, get a blog, get a web site, get posted on these various expert witness sites, publish, and then you have to simply wait until that particular lawsuit comes and calls and someone calls you. So what happens if someone does call you.
I’ve had the opportunity to be an expert witness in a particular case, so I don’t have a lot of experience in this. Still, I have one, and it’s undoubtedly
I wish someone would have taught me what it was involved in being an expert witness before I started.
Because I think it would have helped me understand the process a little bit more.
So let me explain to you what happened to me. I’ve been contacted by other people to be an expert witness, but those situations didn’t pan out and to go into the court case. So the first thing that’s going to happen is the attorney or the attorney’s assistant is going to call you or email you and inquire about your interest level in the particular case. And they’re going to want to know from you your level of expertise and your availability. You’re going to answer their questions; they will tell you a little bit about the case.
The mediation case that they’re dealing with because they want to find out, A, do you have expertise relevant to this particular case and B, do you have a bias that is going to be in favor or opposed to the position of their client. Let me give an illustration, let’s say you’re someone who hates footholds and you think footholds are the most evil trap in the world.
Well, chances are, if the situation that you’re called in for is the wildlife control operator using footholds and is then being sued over that. Chances are you as someone who hates footholds is not going to be invited by that attorney to be the expert witness because your bias is so much against their client.
Now, you might be called in by the plaintiff
The person bringing the lawsuit because you hate Foothold so much, you would make an excellent expert witness because of your hatred for footholds that were used by that particular wildlife control operator.
So, even if you are an expert, if your position, your attitude is of a specific mindset that the lawyer has to determine, are you going to be a benefit for their client or someone who’s going to be a detriment to their client.
So if someone tried to call me up and tried to get me to defend animal rights positions, they have called the wrong person. That’s just the way it is. So the same thing can happen to you, but you need to be aware of that going in because the last word is you’re going to be hired by this attorney to help their client.
And that’s an obligation that you have; now you have a responsibility, to be honest. But you don’t want to sandbag the client when you get in there. So I would also give you some other advice, make sure your fee schedule is high enough to make it worth your while.
You’re going to get your expenses paid that’s sort of a given, but you need to get a price schedule that’s high enough to make it worth your while. You may have a lot of reading to do because the lawyer may send you materials that you’re going to have to digest.
Make sure you have the arrangement with you.
With the attorney, that they’re obligated to give you everything, and you may have to read some material before you commit to this situation.
So there may be an investment in your part-time and energy without getting any compensation whatsoever. But you need to negotiate that with the attorney. Then you have to understand that if you decide to have a contract and you’re going to be the expert witness for this particular client, that the court case, they’ll give you a little bit of notification. Still, sometimes you may only get a couple of days notice, So and you’re going to have to go if you have to go.
So there could be deposition, and then you may have to go to a court date or a hearing date, and that may occur with only a couple of day’s notice. So it can jam up your schedule if you’re, you know if it occurs at the wrong time. So let’s say the court case happened during the time, like in late August, where you’re starting to do all the batch now because you’re blackout periods now expired.
You’re able to do some unacceptable work; you may find that you’ve got to spend a couple of days in the courtroom and you wish you were on the ladder finishing off the jobs that have been hanging up over for a couple of months your clients are dying to get finished off. So understand that you need to be thinking about how you’re going to get reimbursed for that.
So if being an expert witness is something that you’re interested in doing, make sure you become an expert witness and make sure that you learn your field inside and out. Then try to be that thought leader within your discipline and then get the word out to the public that you’re available to do this.
Where volunteering and publications and I’m trying to do a little push here because we need I’m part of the National Wildlife Control Opera’s Association. And we need more volunteers that are willing to commit and put their shoulder thing because you can’t be called if you’re not known. It’s something to keep in the back of your mind.
Understand the negative side of being an expert witness
It can be stressful. Not just that, you have to travel to different locations, you know, outside of your area or your time is being disrupted, it is stressful to be in a courtroom. They don’t call it a trial for anything, and you will be cross-examined. It can be it’s not necessarily mean I mean, and the lawyers are usually professional enough; it’s not personal. However, it’s still stressful because you’re under oath, and there are serious things involved here. Yet, you could have a vital role to play in people, that news going to be high emotion because someone’s going to win and someone’s going to lose, and that’s always going to be a challenge. But if it’s something you’re interested in, something you can make some money, particularly if you’re in the latter part of your career, it may be something that you want to try to explore for yourself.
I hope that was helpful for you if nothing else, because you may find yourself in a lawsuit where an expert witness is being used against you if nothing else, and you at least know what that process is. Hey, I’m Stephen Vantassel for Wildlife Control consultant. Thanks for listening again love to hear from you email addresses, firstname.lastname@example.org; we’d love to hear from you. Thanks for listening.