In a standoff between the Florida judicial and legislative branches, the Florida Supreme Court recently refused to adopt new rules of evidence designed to establish tight standards limiting who could serve as medical expert witnesses. According to the Insurance Journal, although the Florida Court did not actually strike down the law – there was no official challenge of it – but merely refused to honor the requirements it set on medical expert witness testimony.
The Florida legislature would have limited the physicians who can serve as medical expert witnesses to testify against doctors in medical malpractice cases only to doctors who practice the exact type of medicine as the defendant doctor. The present standard – which will remain in effect – allows testimony by a doctor in a similar but not identical field. The legislature would also have eliminated the ability of judges to exercise discretion for admitting expert witness testimony and required that they follow a strict set of narrow rules. The Florida Supreme Court, at the recommendation of the Florida bar’s Board of Governors, refused to amend the state evidence. According to many observers the reason the Supreme Court did so was that they found the law was unconstitutional.
Critics of the Florida legislature’s medical malpractice expert witness law claim that it would have unfairly limited the options available to plaintiffs who need expert opinion to support their claim, and it appears the Florida Supreme Court has similar concerns with the law’s strict regulations. Expert witnesses must be found to be qualified to serve as experts by the trial judge before they can offer testimony.