by Lou Canonico, PE

Expert witness isn’t just a phrase you hear on crime dramas; it can also apply to court cases involving land ownership and condemnation. As an expert in civil engineering, surveying and land planning, christopher has been providing expert witness services to clients and attorneys for twenty years.

So, what exactly is an expert in the eyes of the court? An expert witness is someone who has specialized knowledge, skill, experience, training and/or education which qualifies them to form opinions. Our expert witness staff possess the necessary qualifications due in part to many years of experience in the jurisdictions where the cases are taking place. However, based on our experts’ knowledge and experience, we generally can provide expert services in our field regardless of geographic location.

It is also important to understand that an expert witness is just that: an expert, and not an advocate. The expert is being asked to state their opinion based on the facts as they have identified them. Their opinion must be fair and impartial and have a basis in the facts uncovered during their analysis. It is up to the court to use that opinion to help inform their decision.

Generally, christopher is retained to work with attorneys on condemnation cases involving the taking of land for public improvements. We have worked for both the landowner, whose land is being taken, and the public agency who may be acquiring the land. However, we have also provided expert witness services on other legal actions that may require the opinion of an expert in civil engineering, surveying and/or land planning.  Our opinions are often used by an appraiser to ascertain the financial impact that the court’s decision will have on a piece of property.

Through our many years of experience and many cases under our belts, christopher has come up with these top five guiding principles to providing any expert witness services:

  • Understand the assignment – It is important for the expert to understand what it is they are being asked to render an opinion on. The best way to achieve this is by first meeting with the attorney and other team members to understand the circumstances of the case and the facts as they are known at that point. The expert may be asked at that time to help the team identify the necessary scope of the analysis. However, it is generally the attorney who will dictate what he wants the scope of the analysis to be; however, at this initial meeting the expert may be asked to help identify the necessary scope.
  • Perform thorough research – Many times the attorney we are working with provides us with documentation relating to the case. This can include copies of plans, plats, appraisals, etc. However, we never rely solely on this information. We perform an exhaustive search in order to try to identify all information and records that may have an impact on our expert opinion. We use our expertise to identify what the information may be that needs to be reviewed and then use whatever effort to locate such information. If obtaining additional information relating to the case, it is important to advise the attorney what additional information we may be relying on.
  • Expect the unexpected – At first glance, a specific assignment might appear straightforward. However, we take great care in looking at the issues from all sides. One way of achieving this is to put ourselves in the shoes of an expert for the opposing side. It is important to identify and understand all facets of the argument on which we are being asked to render an expert opinion. It is important that our team not be surprised by an issue or an argument brought up by the other side during the proceeding of the case.
  • Protect your information – It is important for the expert to understand that all the information they use including all notes and e-mails they produce relating to the case is “discoverable” by the other side. This means, if requested to produce this information by the other side, any and all information must be provided to them. It is therefore important to keep thorough and separate files on the specific case. If during the analysis sensitive information is uncovered, it is important to communicate to the attorney verbally before committing anything in writing. Ultimately, the expert may be asked by the attorney to prepare a written report of their analysis. But again, it is important to discuss what the findings of the report will be with the attorney before preparing such written report. The attorney may decide not to have such a report prepared.
  • Communicate clearly – Whether it be in a written report we are asked to prepare, or actual testimony given at trial, it is important that the analysis be presented in as clear and concise a manner as possible with supporting documentation. It is important that the expert not rely on industry jargon or highly technical terminology when presenting their analysis or giving testimony. If highly technical terms cannot be avoided, they should be explained as fully as possible. While giving actual testimony, it is important to limit answers to the question asked and to do so in as clear and concise a manner as possible. As a witness it is important to be confident but not arrogant or condescending.

Lou Canonico, PE

By applying these five tips, as well as relying on our knowledge and experience, christopher consultants has demonstrated time and again that we can provide effective expert witness services in the areas of civil engineering, surveying and land planning.

For more information or to employ our services on your upcoming case, please reach out to me at