High Cost of Expert Witnesses Shocks Everyone but Lawyers

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on June 22, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Litigation is expensive -- really expensive. The cost of going to trial is one of the great motivators for settling, behind only the unpredictability of a jury.

Just how expensive a trial can be is easy for lawyers to forget. But, as Above the Law recently pointed out, normal people can still be shocked. A prime example is Peter Sterne, a writer for Politico's Capital New York, who amusingly found the cost of expert witnesses to be newsworthy.

In Fact, He's Underpaid

To be fair, every story needs a hook and the cost of witnesses is a fine one. That is, if Hulk Hogan, sex tapes, and Internet gossip sites aren't enough. Yep, Sterne's piece focused on the Hulk's lawsuit against Gawker, the online tabloid that published video of the Hulk in flagrante delicto with a friend's wife. That lawsuit could cost Gawker $100 million, according to The New York Times. If it does, it might be because of the journalism "expert" Hulk's team is bringing in, at the cost of $250 an hour before trial and $350 an hour for testimony.

"But that's going to cost thousands of dollars!" normal people explain while lawyers smirk. $250 an hour is not even the going rate for expert witnesses. According to the Expert Institute, who reviewed the litigation history of 5,000 expert witnesses, non-medical expert witnesses, nationally, are paid $275 per hour for case review. In Florida, where the suit was filed, the average hourly fee is $330.

The Value of an Expert Opinion

Of course, expert witnesses are not always as expert as the public might assume. To qualify, you simply need some specialized knowledge based on sufficient facts and applied through reliable methods. You do not have to be the top of your field or even very respected. The ease of finding an expert allows each side to trot out their own specialist to support them. The best experts need to be better at convincing juries than anything else.

The Hulk's underpaid expert, University of Florida journalism professor Mike Foley, is set to testify that Gawker violated journalistic ethics. The website, Foley contends, is "only motivated by money." Quelle surprise, expert. Gawker, of course, will have their own experts on hand, possibly charging a higher fee.

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