Success in serious personal injury cases require the plaintiff’s lawyer to put together many pieces in a way that makes the jury decide that justice requires a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. One of these pieces is testimony from a vocational expert. Testimony from a vocational expert is called for in any serious accident case in which the injuries permanently impair the plaintiff’s ability to work.
The vocational expert will be typically be someone with a background in the rehabilitation field who is knowledgeable about the various studies and government documents that describe the many categories of work and the range of salaries they pay in the relevant geographical area. For example, if a car-truck collision leaves the car driver partially paralyzed and unable to resume his former occupation, the vocational expert testifies to the types of opportunities the injured person might have had and the opportunities lost. The impact of the accident on vocational and earning prospects may vary greatly depending on the plaintiff’s education and background. If the plaintiff was a high school dropout who nevertheless made a good living in the construction trade, an accident resulting in partial paralysis could be devestating to future vocational potential and earning capacity. The vocational expert would explain to the jury the limited types of work available to the plaintiff and the dramatic reduction in his anticipated future earnings. Ironically, the same injury to a college professor might have far less impact. On the other hand, if the injury was a closed head injury impairing the higher cognitive functions, it might be the professional person whose future earnings would be the most impaired. It is the job of the vocational expert, based on the foundation of facts laid by the plaintiff’s medical expert, to make sure the jury understands the impact of the injuries on future employability and earning potential, so that the injured plaintiff can be fairly compensated.