In a trial following a Maryland motorcycle crash, a non-expert witness is limited in the testimony they are allowed to provide in court. Non-expert witnesses, or lay witnesses, are those not testifying as experts—because they have not been qualified by the court as experts. Under Maryland Rule 5-701, a lay witness may testify in the form of an opinion or an inference only when the opinion or inference is “rationally based on the perception of the witness,” and the testimony is “helpful to a clear understanding of the witness’s testimony or the determination of a fact in issue.” A lay witness may not provide an opinion that is based upon specialized knowledge, training, or experience, because the witness must be qualified as an expert to do so. Generally, a court has significant discretion to admit lay witness or expert witness opinion.
In a recent case before a state appellate court, the court considered whether several non-expert witnesses should have been allowed to testify about the speed of a motorcycle before a crash. In that case, a motorcyclist was riding his motorcycle when he crashed with another vehicle. The motorcyclist died as a result of his injuries, and his family filed a wrongful death claim and a negligence claim against the two occupants of the other vehicle. The case went to trial and the jury found in favor of the defendants.
On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the court should not have allowed the witnesses at trial to estimate the speed of the motorcycle. During the trial, several witnesses who heard the crash testified that just before the crash, the motorcyclist was driving fast, and was going about 80 to 100 miles per hour based on the sound of the motorcycle’s engine. A police officer who heard the crash also estimated that the motorcyclist was driving between 60 and 80 miles per hour before the crash.