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Rick Scott Signs Expert Witness Standard Overhauls into Law

June 4, 2013 - 6:00pm

Florida law school graduates studying for their bar exams better take note: Gov. Rick Scott has signed two pieces of legislation which overturn nearly century-old standards governing what type of expert witness testimony is admissible in state courts.

On Wednesday, Scott added his signature to HB 7015 (Expert Testimony) and SB 1792 (Medical Negligence Actions), two legal reform bills that were major priorities of Florida's business community, and whose passage was vigorously opposed by the state's trial lawyer lobby.

Every decision that I make comes down to one word JOBS, Scott said in a statement announcing his signatures. By signing these important bills, well improve the business climate in the Sunshine State, which means more jobs and opportunities for Florida families.

With Scott's approval of HB 7015, state courts will now only be allowed to admit expert testimony if the judge finds it to be based on scientifically sound principles. The new law abolishes the 90-year old "Frye" standard (named after a 1923 U.S. Supreme Court case), which allowed expert witnesses in civil cases to offer mere subjective opinion (a type of testimony never allowed in criminal trials). Florida has now adopted the federal Daubert standard (named after a 1993 Supreme Court decision), which means experts will only be allowed to testify if they can prove to a judge that their theories or techniques have been tested, have been subject to peer review, have a low rate of error, and have received general acceptance in the scientific community.

"HB 7015 is an historic achievement," William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute and Jeb Bush's former deputy chief of staff, told Sunshine State News shortly after the bill was signed into law."By replacing Floridas 90-year-old expert evidence standard with the modern Daubert standard used in all federal courts and the courts of many states competing with Florida for new jobs, Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature have taken a giant leap toward ending the forum shopping that currently imports litigation instead of jobs into Florida."

SB 1792 provides that expert witnesses can only testify in medical malpractice cases if they have practiced in the same specialty that is in question, replacing current law that allows them to testify so long as they practice in the same general field. The new law also guarantees the right to legal representation for all doctors who are made to testify in a legal proceeding, if they are not defendants.

Floridas toxic medical liability climate has led to outrageously high medical malpractice premiums, and with so many citizens in need of care, we simply cant afford to drive away good doctors, Dr. Ralph Nobo, Florida Medical Association, said in a statement. As a practicing OB/GYN, I know that this law will make a real difference for physicians while improving Floridas reputation as a good and fair place to practice medicine. This is a victory for doctorsandpatients.

Reach Eric Giunta at [email protected] or at (954) 235-9116.