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Florida Supreme Court Weighing Expert Witness Standards

Attorneys across Florida are at odds with whether the statewide standard for admission of expert witness testimony in our courts. The question is whether the state’s adoption of the “Daubert Standard,” which is used in federal courts, was an erroneous one and we should instead return to the previous “Frye Standard” that was used before. gavel1

Our Miami personal injury lawyers admit upfront: It sounds like a dry, technical issue only lawyers would care anything about. But here is why it matters: Any one of us could wind up in court for one reason or another – accused of a crime or victimized by one, suffering a personal injury or accused of the negligence that caused it. That means virtually everyone has a stake in which standard to apply to expert witnesses in state court.

The issue is widely seen as a battle that pits businesses versus plaintiffs. Businesses tend to favor the Daubert standard because they argue that it does away with so-called “junk science.” However, plaintiffs tend to favor Frye because applying this higher standard of evidence results in higher legal costs, extensive delays and, ultimately, restriction of court access to personal injury clients. There are certainly arguments to the pros and cons of both sides, and the Florida Supreme Court is weighing them after recent hearings. 

The Daubert standard, which federal courts use, is a strict standard for scientific expert testimony that typically requires something of a mini-trial before a judge reaches a decision about whether that expert – and his or her findings and conclusions – can be heard by a juror. Historically, Florida used the Frye standard, which simply asks whether the expert testimony is generally accepted among a given scientific community.

Both of these standards got their names from the respective court cases of which they were born.

Usually, it’s easier for plaintiffs to get helpful expert witness testimony in front of a jury under the Frye standard.

But recent evidence before the Florida Supreme Court added another layer of complexity to this issue: Criminal cases.

There is now an argument that under the Daubert standard, criminal attorneys might be able to hold police crime labs to greater accountability – particularly in cases that involve drug-sniffing dogs or roadside drug sample tests. In arguing for the Daubert system, defense lawyers say that it is in the best interest of justice to keep the standards of expert testimony strict in order to protect the rights of the accused.

However, the argument against the Daubert standard in both criminal and civil cases is that judges do not have the time and resources to evaluate any and all expert witness testimony in every case and that this is the job of jurors. Plus, it’s being noted that Daubert hearings are causing an extreme burden on federal judges, and adding to client attorney bills.

One Florida Supreme Court Justice asked whether the Daubert standard was being misused to keep out, say, ordinary medical testimony in personal injury lawsuits. That question was answered in the affirmative by plaintiffs’ counsel, who say it’s being used as a type of tactical tool that allows defendants to challenge causation even in the most typically straightforward cases.

There is no timeline on when the state high court will rule on this important issue, but you can bet lawyers across the country will be eagerly awaiting a decision.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Expert witness standard takes center stage at Florida Supreme Court, Sept. 1, 2016, By Jim Rosica, SaintPetersBlog.com

More Blog Entries:

Safeco Ins. Co. v. Fridman – Proving Wage Loss Damages After Car Accident, Aug. 22, 2016, Miami Injury Lawyer Blog

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