For jury trials that center on complicated medical procedures or the design
of a product, expert witnesses are an invaluable resource to both the
party that retains them, as well as jury members who are likely unfamiliar
with many of the issues at hand. In turn, credible experts must not only
demonstrate a thorough command of their knowledge area, but also an understanding
of the trial process and the evidence admissibility standard in their
Governor Scott signed into law a bill that amends Florida’s evidence code and replaces the
Frye standard which had previous dictated the admissibility of expert testimony
in Florida, with the
Daubert standard . Under this new standard, an expert witness by knowledge, experience,
skill, or training may provide opinion testimony if:
- The testimony is based on sufficient facts or data
- The testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods
- The witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts
of the case
However, it is important to note that the change in the rules of evidence
may still be subject to interpretation by Florida courts.
The Importance of Experts
Opinion—rather than fact—testimony has numerous advantages.
Indeed, experts are allowed more discretion than lay witnesses to present
opinions. Thus, even if a product was designed and manufactured according
to industry standards, an expert witness is still permitted to express
an opinion that the product was poorly made. This freedom makes an expert
a powerful advocate and lends credibility to the party that called the
expert at trial.
Thus, while the expert may appear as a neutral to the jury, he or she is
actually presenting a carefully constructed point of view. Moreover, there
are certain issues that require expert witnesses, such as the standard
of care in professional malpractice actions, the causation of a plaintiff’s
injuries in toxic exposure cases, and reasonably appropriate amounts of
Determining Whether an Expert is Needed
At the outset of trial, an attorney must determine whether the testimony
of an expert witness would be beneficial to the client’s case before
beginning a search for the appropriate expert. An expert may be needed
when the facts of the case are not easily understood by a lay person or
when a judge is not well-versed in the subject matter. In some cases,
an expert’s testimony itself can help build the facts of a case,
such as when the existing information is not discernable without expert
interpretation. Lastly, some experts may never see the inside of a courtroom.
That is, an expert may be retained by a party to be a consultant who can
lend technical or economic expertise or suggest other important factual
issues to determine before trial.
If, after consideration, an attorney determines that an expert witness
is needed, there are three general sources to turn to in finding an expert.
First, academia offers a setting where people with great expertise on
an array of subjects is concentrated. Professors and researchers also
lend a level of neutrality to trial proceedings. Second, practitioners
with extensive experience in a particular industry, such as doctors, are
also in high demand because of their hands-on experience. Third, there
are consulting firms dedicated to helping attorneys find the right expert
witness for a specific case.
The Pittman Firm is committed to helping those who have suffered from medical
injuries and defective products obtain justice and appropriate compensation.
Please call us today so that we can evaluate your case and determine a
plan to meet your legal needs.