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Toxicology is essentially the study of how chemicals interact or metabolize in the human body. Toxicologists are frequently needed to testify in both civil and criminal trials for a variety of reasons. Although there is no precise path required, most people follow a very similar path on the road to become a toxicology expert witness. The proper education and degree is an absolute must, followed by extensive experience in the field.
An expert in the field of toxicology may be called to testify in a civil lawsuit where injuries were caused by the introduction of a chemical into a person's body. For example, if a plaintiff, or person bringing the lawsuit, suffered burns as the result of contact with a chemical or suffered an allergic reaction after ingesting a chemical, a toxicology expert may be needed to explain the science behind the injuries. In a criminal trial, a toxicology expert may be needed for similar reasons. Operating while intoxicated trials often require a toxicology expert to explain how alcohol metabolizes in the human body in order to prove that the defendant was, indeed, intoxicated.
The proper educational background is essential for anyone who plans to become a toxicology expert witness. While someone with a bachelor's degree may be qualified to work in a laboratory or as an assistant, anyone who aspires to become a toxicology expert witness should generally plan to continue his or her education all the way through a doctorate degree in toxicology. In some cases, a doctorate-level degree in a related field, such as medicine or another science, will suffice if extensive work experience in the field of toxicology is also demonstrated.
Aside from the required educational background, considerable work experience in the field of toxicology is also necessary to become a toxicology expert witness. Supervisory experience in a laboratory is one option for demonstrating the necessary work experience. Research in the area of toxicology is another way to convince a court that a potential witness is qualified as an expert in the field of toxicology.
In most jurisdictions, the court will make the final decision as to whether a witness may testify as an expert. Courts will typically want to hear evidence that the witness has both the educational credentials and the experience to be considered an expert. Courts also frequently want to hear evidence that the witness is generally regarded as an expert in the field by his or her peers.
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