May, 2003
You Tell Us
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



More Excellent Expert Advice

EDITED BY ASHI STAFF

To the editor:

As an ASHI member who has presented expert testimony in the Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia area for more than 25 years, I applaud the article written by Mike Casey. His advice is excellent. I would recommend a few further considerations for those contemplating expanding their venues to include expert witness services.

My goal in getting involved in any case is to make the investigation and documentation so thorough and complete that the other side would rather settle than take it into the courtroom.

Sometimes expert witness work is frustrating. You can spend hours researching and preparing documentation that attorneys often will not enter into evidence because the report cannot be rebutted or cross examined. You, as the expert, will be called to the witness chair to give testimony.

Good attorneys ask questions based on the information in the report, which can then be explained to the court. The opposing counsel will try to rebut the testimony and obfuscate during cross examination. The attorney you’re working with can then go to redirect to counter any challenges through further questioning. As the expert, you cannot nor should you volunteer information. It’s a dance, the attorney asks you a question. You answer.  

To prepare for becoming an expert witness, you may want to find out when members who do expert work are scheduled to testify, and be present to observe the action. Expert witnesses earn the money they’re paid for sitting in the witness chair. It’s often unpleasant and taxing.  

Concerning photographs, I’ve taken 100 great depictions only to discover the attorney and client have whittled it down to no more than 5 to 10 to be used in trial. I now use Advanced Photo System (APS) film for a couple of reasons. First the cartridges are numbered so they can be tracked. There is almost nothing worse than taking the time to get the photos needed only to find the processor lost the film. Make sure the processor writes the numbers on your receipt for the film. APS film is tracked. Second, with APS I can take a partial roll at one film speed, remove the cartridge, start another roll of a different speed, and then go back to the incomplete roll to finish it.  

Concerning cameras, I carry a 35-mm Olympus telephoto as well as the Cannon telephoto Elph APS. I agree with Mike about digital cameras and images. Don’t use them for court work. Also as Mike pointed out, keeping extra film on-hand is a must, but so are spare batteries! It is highly embarrassing to have the camera loaded only to discover the battery is dead. Also, never write anything more than a number on the back of photos unless you have a few hours to be grilled during a deposition where they copy all your notes from them.

As a last note, I charge for each photograph taken and state the fee clearly. If the other side wants duplicates, they pay the same fee. Some have asked if this seems fair. The answer is yes. Try bringing in a professional photographer to take the pictures and see what his or her fees are. Learn to take excellent
photographs.

If you get to the point of being in the witness chair, think before you speak. This gives you time to use the three-second rule Mike mentioned.  

When under cross-examination, ask yourself, where are the questions going and what is the likely outcome? It’s like a chess match, with each question being a move to ultimately checkmate you. If you understand the consequences of your replies, damage can be controlled or mitigated. Always speak clearly and confidently.

JD Grewell, ASHI Member
J.D. Grewell & Associates, Inc.
Silver Spring, Md.