The costs in an admiralty action are generally prescribed by the Supreme Court in the absence of any specific act of Congress. Congress has enacted a comprehensive statute that governs the payment of witness fees for a witness in attendance at any federal court.[i] Expert witnesses, by virtue of their expertise, usually demand payments much higher than statutory witness fees.
The issue of taxation of expert witness fees is complex. Generally, if the provisions of a statute are construed to prevent taxation of expert witness fees as costs, then the other statute will be applicable to admiralty cases.[ii]
In Kansas v. Colorado, 129 S. Ct. 1294 (U.S. 2009), the court observed that the expert witness attendance fees available in cases under the original jurisdiction of the U.S. Supreme Court are same as expert witness attendance fees available under the district court. In Carlson v. Palmer, 472 F. Supp. 396, 398 (D. Del. 1979), it was observed that the provisions of 28 USCS § 1821 constitute element of federal maritime law and establish specific standards governing taxation as costs of expert witness fees.
In Kaiser Industries Corp. v. McLouth Steel Corp., 50 F.R.D. 5 ( E.D. Mich. 1970), the court observed that the fees of an expert witness in excess of statutory witness fees are not taxable costs.
However, a federal court may not apply a state statute that governs expert witness fees if that statute directly contravenes the federal statutes [iii]governing taxation of witness fees as costs in maritime cases.
[i] 28 USCS § 1821
[iii] 28 USCS § 1821