lay witness - expert witness
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Lay Witnesses and Expert Witnesses
In a general sense, we all know what a witness is. Any grade
schooler could tell you that a witness is someone who sees
something and comments about what he or she saw. In the
legal sense, a witness is someone called upon to offer such
an account in the form of testimony in a legal setting, as in a
trial, or in the discovery phases prior to trial. Discovery is the
part of a lawsuit that deals with gathering information and
relevant legal documents such as accident reports, marine
surveys or police reports. Testimony can be offered in a civil
trial in an injury claim, or it can be offered in a criminal trial
involving a prosecution for manslaughter or unlawful discharge
of oily waste. In the U.S. legal system, attorneys for both sides
may call witnesses to testify about events in a credible and
accurate manner.

The U.S. legal system allows two types of witnesses, lay
witnesses and expert witnesses. A lay witness basically offers
an account of something they saw or heard. The testimony can
be taken in the course of a deposition, which is a meeting
where the witness answers questions under oath. A deposition
is also known as an examination before trial, or EBT. An
example of the testimony given by a lay witness might be
something like, “Yes, I relieved the 0400 to 0800 watch on the
bridge that morning. I observed that visibility was limited
because of fog. I reduced speed to five knots. I did not see any
other vessels on the radar scope when I checked at 0810….”
This type of testimony can flow in a narrative manner just like
here, if an attorney asks the witness something such as like,
“Tell us what happened when you made your relief that
morning, Mr. Smith.” Witnesses can also offer testimony in a
question and answer format, as in direct examination or cross
examination.

















Another manner in which witnesses can testify is as experts.
The expert witness is not someone from the crew or from a
group of bystanders, but generally a person who has
credentials about an important issue in a legal proceeding.
They may be an engineer, a scientist, a marine safety
consultant or other professional. They are supposed to
possess expertise in the subject on which they are providing an
opinion. Their testimony might be something to the effect of,
“Yes, I have a Ph.D. in chemistry and am a certified marine
chemist. I’ve worked as a production manager in petroleum
distillate refineries for ten years. I am the author of the OSHA
publication titled “Entry Into Confined Spaces Following
Evacuation of Solvent Fumes”. I’m familiar with the hazards of
MTBE. It is my opinion that the procedures followed that day
were appropriate (or non-appropriate) for personnel entering
the tank following the discharge of cargo… etc.”


















Perhaps the strangest testimony ever elicited from a witness
was in connection with the loss of the cruiser U.S.S.
Indianapolis in World War II. The event is well-known for its
tragic aftermath in which survivors endured shark-invested
waters for days. The cruiser was sunk by the Japanese
submarine I-58 on July 30, 1945 after delivering the first atomic
bomb to Tinian. At the court martial of Charles McVay III, the
cruiser’s commanding officer, the Navy wanted to show that
failure to zig-zag course was responsible for the loss of the
ship. The U.S. Navy called Captain Mochitsura Hashimoto
(pictured above), the I-58’s commanding officer, as a witness to
testify in its court martial case against Captain McVay. Captain
Mochitsura testified that it didn’t make any difference whether or
not the cruiser zig-zagged. He even joined efforts to clear
Captain McVay’s good name well after the war. Read more at
the website
U.S.S. Indianapolis… Still At Sea.
The sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis in the cosing days of World
War II led to one of the most unusual summoning of a witness. Read
more below.