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A Vocational expert is an authority in the areas of vocational rehabilitation, vocational and earning capacity, lost earnings, cost of replacement labor and lost ability/time in performing household services. They perform evaluations for purposes of civil litigation, as an aspect of economic damages.
Vocational experts identify what the person could have earned prior to the incident, compared to what they are likely to earn following the incident. Economic experts calculate the value of those earnings over time, so the difference, if any, between the two income streams is clearly understood. Those who act as vocational/economic experts blend the two disciplines, and offer testimony in both arenas.
A vocational "expert" is designated by an attorney as an expert who testifies in court, whereas a vocational "consultant" does not testify.
Qualifications to testify in court as an expert in the field of vocational rehabilitation are fairly strict and related to State certification and licensure. Typically, a graduate degree in counseling or psychology plus certification/licensure will suffice. Ultimately, the Rules of Evidence in the jurisdiction presiding over the civil case prevail. Most Rules of Evidence relating to the qualifications of an expert witness are based on the Federal Rules of Evidence; Rule 702, which states:
If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.
It is because of Rule 702 as well as related case law (for example Supreme Court of the United States, JONES & LAUGHLIN STEEL CORP. v. PFEIFER, 462 U.S. 523, CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT, Argued February 28, 1983 - Decided June 15, 1983), individuals with a bachelor's degree and/or a graduate degree can also qualify to perform forensic economic damage evaluations. One of the most common type of non-economist who testifies in the small-niche field of forensic economics is the Vocational Expert (a rehabilitation counselor or psychologist), a person who is also versed in wages and benefits, earnings growth trends, and an injured person's ability to perform household services.