Paper No. 13
Presentation Time: 11:25 AM
BEING AN EXPERT WITNESS IN GEOMORPHOLOGY
Being an expert witness in geomorphology can be a very rewarding experience. It provides an opportunity to interact with our legal system in a significant and important way. Typical cases involve flood hazard, erosion hazards, landslide hazard, coastal hazards, and property disputes. I learned to be an expert witness on the job, and greatly benefited from the book, Shuirman, G., and Slosson, J.E., 1992, Forensic engineering: San Diego, California, Academic Press, and the commentary by Stanley A Schumm, 2005, Forensic Geomorphology, GSA, Today, December. From the former I learned the importance of gathering your own data and coming to your own conclusions. From the latter I learned the importance of being carefully prepared, and remembering you can only be questioned in deposition and trial in your area of expertise. You are qualified as an expert by education, knowledge and experience. Your pretrial work often defines what the case will be based on. You have nothing to fear from cross-examination if you are prepared and confident of your work. The apposing attorney is probably more fearful and nervous than you are, as your testimony can turn a case. As an expert you are not required to give a yes or no answer to a complex question. You have the right to explain your answer. Your testimony takes the form of an opinion when you have applied reliable methods of study and analysis to report the facts of your investigation. Being an expert witness requires good communication skills often through use of exhibits you prepare as a power point presentation. It is important speak clearly and avoid jargon, especially when addressing a jury.
Your initial task when starting a case will involve visiting the site, and communicating with the attorney. You may offer an opinion of the strengths and weaknesses of a particular case and outline a strategy to complete your investigation. Whether you are part of the team defending a client (defendant) or prosecuting the case make little difference as your job is to succinctly and honestly present the science and facts of the case. Most cases are settled after the fact-finding part of pretrial work is completed.