Expert testimony has become the critical element in many civil and criminal cases. It can involve everything from blood analysis to forensic accounting and medical doctors. Trials and personal injury litigation can turn on a few words from someone the court recognizes as a credible and reliable authority.
Agosto has made himself into an 'expert' on 'expert witnesses.' He has written articles on the laws pertaining to expert testimony, and made presentations to other lawyers on the subject.
The strategy at Agosto's firm is to use expert witnesses as both an offensive and a defensive tactic. In other words, lawyers must know how to protect the credibility of their own witnesses, as well as attack the credibility of the experts brought forward by opposing counsel.
Without proper attention to preparing and protecting expert witnesses, lawsuits and trials can easily slide into the abyss. "My job as a lawyer is to learn how to pick the right experts, prepare them to present evidence to the jury and prepare them for cross-examination," he says.
If an expert witness is surprised by a line of questioning or their expertise is challenged, lawyers can find their case lacking the evidence needed to convince a judge or jury of their client's claim.
Because of the number of chemical plants around Houston, Agosto has represented many workers injured in serious industrial accidents. Agosto's usual plan of action in these cases is to hire a team of experts to sift through the aftermath of the accident along side government agencies also going over the accident scene.
The firm of Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrells & Friend is more than 60 years old and has developed a long list of expert witness contacts, but they are always looking for new ones. "Through the years we have accumulated a database of experts. Some experts work better in some circumstances than others, but we always try to go for the best experts in the field, no matter where they are in the country," he says.
Agosto is currently working on behalf of a 32-year-old painter who was electrocuted at a construction site. The ladder he was using came into contact with a primary power line. Nineteen thousand volts charged through the painter's body and he was permanently disabled. "We had to get electrical experts, reconstruction experts, amputation experts, medical experts and life care planners," says Agosto. "Altogether this case needed some 15 or 16 experts from across the country."
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Many cases lawyers now handle have become, as Agosto says, "expert intensive." It means that lawyers have to go out and find the absolutely best list of experts possible, but lawyers know the other side is doing the same thing. "We end up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on experts. If it wasn't for contingency fees, many people would not be able to proceed with litigation in some cases," says Agosto.
Benny Agosto is a graduate of the South Texas College of Law in Houston, Texas (1995). He also holds a B.S in Microbiology from the Houston Baptist University(1986). Agosto has published many articles including Experts:How to Pick Them, Protect Them, and Pick Them Apart (2003) for the Houston Bar Association.