Expert Witnesses in Florida: A Shift in the Rules Governing a Key Part of Florida Personal Injury Cases

As a dedicated and experienced Panama City personal injury law firm, we frequently work with expert witnesses. While most cases settle before trial, an expert witness may have helped us convince the opposing party about the strength and value of our case (which builds the settlement amount, a reason injured victims should always hire a lawyer). If a case does go to trial, expert witnesses are often a key part of our trial plan.

What Makes Expert Testimony Special?

Expert witnesses are special. Most witnesses will testify about their first-hand knowledge of facts, such as the driver of another car who saw the defendant run through the red light. Experts, on the other hand, do not have first-hand knowledge. They are typically the only witnesses who may testify about their opinions, such as the opinion that the defendant's car had not slowed as it approached the intersection. These opinions are based on a review of the facts and the application of specialized knowledge/expertise, such as years of education and experience in accident reconstruction. It is important that this specialized knowledge is reliable and trustworthy. There will often be opposing witnesses with a different opinion, and the jury will need to decide whose opinion is correct, but it is very important to the court that all experts be worthy of their role.

A Change in the Rules on Expert Qualifications

Recently, as reported by WJHG, Governor Scott signed two bills dealing with expert witnesses. One bill changes Florida Statute 90.702 addresses who can qualify to be a trial witness in Florida courts. Previously, Florida was one of only a few states that used the "Frye standard." Named after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from 1923, Frye required that expert testimony be established enough to have general acceptance within its field. The bill moves Florida courts to the "Daubert standard," also named for a U.S. Supreme Court case, this one from 1993. Used in a strong majority of states and in federal courts, Daubert requires that the judge finds the witness testimony to be based on scientifically sound principles. Courts applying Daubert have often looked to whether theories have been subject to peer review and whether they have a low error rate.

Opponents of the change say courts will be bogged down by fights over expert qualifications. Proponents say the change will ensure expert witnesses are credible. They point to the fact that other forums have moved to Daubert as proof that it is a more reliable standard.

A Special Rule for Medical Malpractice Experts

The second bill signed by Scott, SB 1792, which amends 766.102, focuses on expert qualification in medical malpractice actions (note: it also has other prongs related to medical malpractice cases). Under the new provision, experts may only testify if they have specialized in the specific medical field in question. Previously, the witness could also have a similar specialty. Our own Panama City medical malpractice lawyer is cited in the WJGH article, noting that the shift will make it more difficult for injured patients to bring suit against the doctor(s) involved.

Experts are particularly important in the medical malpractice field since an injured patient must have an affidavit from an expert to file a case.

Working with Experts to Help Those Injured in Northwest Florida

Understanding the detailed rules governing expert testimony and how they impact injury cases is part of our job as a Panama City injury law firm. These rules are critical to all cases, even those that settle before trial since settlement values are based upon what could happen at trial. We will continue to work with experts, following the laws governing their opinions, and to use their testimony to help our clients win monetary damages.

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