Tag Archives: florida expert witness

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Florida Supreme Court set to Hear Arguments in Battle over Expert Witness Qualifications

A legal fight over expert witness qualifications in Florida is going to the state Supreme Court for a final decision.  Since 2013, businesses, legislators, and attorneys have engaged in a dispute over what the appropriate legal standard for expert witness qualification should be, and the Florida Supreme Court has finally agreed to rule on the issue and hear arguments in early September.

Florida Legislature Pushes for Daubert Expert Witness Standard

In 2013 the Florida legislature passed a bill which elevated the standard used to evaluate expert witness qualifications from the Frye test to the Daubert test.  Unlike the Frye test, which allows an expert to testify if his experience and content of his testimony are accepted by his professional field, the Daubert test for expert witnesses requires judges to thoroughly evaluate the testimony to make sure it is relevant to the trial and valid.  Under the Daubert standard, trial judges must determine if the testimony is based on adequate facts or data, has been generated from reliable research principles and methods, and is the result of a proper application of the research principles and methods used. While judges still look to accepted practices of the expert’s professional field for guidance, the Daubert standard requires more careful evaluation of testimony before it is admissible.

The stricter Daubert test is used by the Federal judiciary and a majority of the states, but Florida has held onto the lessor Frye test, largely with the support of plaintiff attorneys and judges who prefer an expert witness standard which favors admissibility.  In 2013, however, members of the business community and a coalition of defense attorneys were able to convince the Florida legislature that the Frye test exposes trials to “junk science” and unqualified expert witnesses because it is not restrictive enough, and as a result the lawmakers legislatively imposed the Daubert standard on all judicial proceedings in the state.

The move has not come without controversy, and over the last 3 years since it passed judges and plaintiffs’ attorneys have consistently rejected its implementation, culminating earlier this year in a recommendation from the Florida Bar Board of Governors that the state Supreme Court dismiss the law and retain the Frye standard for admissibility of expert witness testimony.

Florida Bar Association Calls for Frye Expert Witness Standard

Opponents of the Daubert standard argue that it unfairly restricts the expert witnesses that plaintiffs are allowed to call by placing unnecessary restrictions on admissibility.  Plaintiffs’ attorneys argue that increased standards on expert witness admissibility only serves to drive up the cost of litigation which will make filing and pursuing lawsuits prohibitively expensive for some clients.  Frye test proponents argue that a simpler test for expert witness qualification provides greater access to the legal system by not eliminating potential claims based on the financial resources of litigants.

Beyond ideological opposition to the Daubert standard, opponents of the 2013 Florida law argue the legislature does not have the authority to establish judicial rules of evidence.  In a report released in March of this year, the Florida Bar Board of Governors formally recommended that the judiciary reject the 2013 law because it overstepped the separation of powers between the judicial and legislative branches of Florida government.  According to opponents of the 2013 law, the legislature does not have the authority to tell the judiciary what the required standard for expert witness admissibility is, and the Supreme Court should therefore dismiss the law and continue with the traditional Frye test which Florida courts have used for years.

Florida Expert Witness Challenged Headed to State Supreme Court

Earlier this month, the Florida Supreme Court agreed to settle the debate about the state’s expert witness admissibility standard by issuing a final legal ruling.  Supporters of the 2013 legislation argue that the people of Florida, through their elected representatives, have expressed the desire to increase the standard for expert witness testimony in order to keep “junk science” and frivolous experts away from litigation.  Opponents of the law maintain that the legislative body does not have the authority to determine expert witness admissibility standards.

The case has gained significant attention across the state with several businesses and lawyers filing comments with the Florida Supreme Court in an effort to tilt the scales.  The central question in the dispute – whether the legislature has authority to define rules of evidence – is an interesting legal battle between state judicial and legislative branches which will impact the way in which expert witnesses can be used in Florida.

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Florida Attorneys Resist Change in Expert Witness Admissibility Rules

Attorneys in Florida recently submitted a recommendation to the state Supreme Court requesting the judiciary refuse a legislative directive to increase scrutiny on expert witnesses.  The recommendation and accompanying report submitted by the Florida Bar association highlights an ongoing debate about the proper standard for evaluating and admitting expert testimony in court.

Florida’s Expert Testimony Standard

In 2013 the Florida legislature passed a law which required the Florida judiciary to adopt the same legal standard for admitting expert testimony as the federal court system uses.  The standard, known as the Daubert test, requires judges to conduct a thorough evaluation of proposed expert witness testimony across three parts: whether the expert’s work is based on sufficient facts or data, is the product of reliable principles and methods, and has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.  Under the Daubert standard courts are required to assess an expert’s qualifications, the work a proposed witness did to prepare testimony, and the standards used by specialists in the expert’s field of study.

Florida legislators responded to assertive lobbying efforts led by business groups and medical organizations by adopting the Daubert standard for expert testimony in state courts, setting off a debate between the law’s proponents and plaintiff attorneys of the Florida Bar Association.  According to arguments from plaintiff attorneys, a more restrictive approach to admitting expert witness testimony only benefits large businesses or deep-pocketed defendants who use the standard as a way to stymie legitimate lawsuits.

Florida Attorneys Resists New Expert Witness Standard

Members of the Florida Bar Association have resisted change to the Daubert standard since the state legislature adopted the new test in 2013 by arguing it prevents low-income citizens from being able to pursue legitimate legal claims.  Attorneys caution the Daubert standard enables wealthy defendants use procedural rules on expert admissibility to delay and make expensive lawsuits to the point where plaintiffs may be discouraged to continue.  Opponents to the Daubert test argue wealthy defendants can rely on a select few experts who routinely testify on the same issue across several lawsuits while plaintiffs without the same resources would be unable to find or afford experts the courts would admit.

The Daubert standard reduces the number of available experts by imposing more rigorous standards of admissibility, and with a smaller pool of experts to choose from it becomes difficult for every lawsuit to have a qualifying expert to offer support.  Attorneys who oppose the Daubert standard argue Florida should retain its old test for expert witness admissibility known as the Frey test.  The Frye test offers a much simpler requirement to determine expert qualifications: whether the proposed expert testimony is based on techniques and theories which are generally accepted as reliable in the relevant scientific community.  Unlike the Daubert standard which requires judges to evaluate expert testimony, the Frye test simply asks judges to ascertain whether the scientific community has conducted an evaluation.

Proponents of the Daubert standard argue the Frye test too frequently allow “junk science” to be used in court by experts who can find any scientific publication to submit their work, and maintain that using a more rigorous standard for expert analysis preserves the integrity of the legal system and prevents frivolous lawsuits.

Florida Bar Association Asks State Supreme Court to Reject Daubert Standard

After several months of debate over the Daubert and Frye standards, the Florida Bar’s Board of Governors voted 33 – 9 to formally recommend the state Supreme Court not adopt the Daubert standard in direct opposition of the legislative directive.  Despite the Daubert’s use in the federal court system, and most states, Florida attorneys expressed a desire to maintain the less restrictive Frye standard of expert witness evaluation.  The state Supreme Court has the authority under Florida’s constitution to adopt rules for the judiciary, and, as such, as the ultimate say in whether or not the Daubert standard is used.

With the petition recently submitted to Florida’s Supreme Court there is unlikely to be any action on the issue for several months, but Florida’s internal debate on the appropriate legal standard for admissibility of expert witnesses provides an interesting challenge to a long-accepted method for assessing expert reliability.