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A Primer on Expert Testimony in Medical Malpractice Cases


In order to bring a medical malpractice lawsuit in the State of Florida, the plaintiff must produce an expert witness to testify on their behalf. This witness will be produced by the plaintiffs to testify that medical negligence resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries or, in the case where a patient dies, say that the death was a result of medical negligence. In cases where something as esoteric as the practice of medicine is the central issue in a lawsuit, it’s not feasible to expect a jury to understand all of the details. What a jury needs to know is how the law in medical malpractice lawsuits works, what constitutes medical negligence, and how it is different from a medical mistake. In order to do that, medical experts need to come forward with a medical opinion on why the defendant doctor in the lawsuit should be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

Two Standards of Expert Testimony 

There are two standards in the justice system for determining whether or not an expert’s testimony should be considered by a jury. These are the Frye Standard and the Daubert Standard. These standards are not just the rule in terms of medical malpractice, but in any case in which an expert witness is called to testify on behalf of a plaintiff, defendant, or even the state.

The Frye Standard 

The Frye Standard traces its roots to a murder trial that took place in 1923. The defendant sought to introduce evidence that he had passed an early form of the lie detector test that was based on measuring a person’s blood pressure while they were being interrogated. The defendant wanted to introduce expert testimony that he had passed that test.

The question that the court had to answer was whether or not the testimony should be admitted. The court determined that in cases where the scientific community “generally accepted” a method of testing to be valid, it could be admitted. Hence the Frye Standard is also known as the “general acceptance” standard.

The Daubert Standard 

In a 1993 case in which plaintiffs sued a drug company alleging that a pill caused serious birth defects, a lower court dismissed the case on the premise that the scientific community did not “generally accept” that the drug in question could lead to birth defects. However, on appeal, a second court noted that Federal Rule of Evidence 702 stated nothing about “general acceptance” being a precondition of admissibility. Instead, the court had to make a determination on the expert testimony based on whether or not the findings conformed to scientific rigor.

What Standard Does Florida Employ? 

In 2013, the Florida Legislature adopted the Daubert Standard. However, it became apparent that each time an expert witness was needed to testify, there would need to be a mini-trial to determine the legitimacy of their testimony. This came at great cost to plaintiffs, defendants, and the state. In 2017 and 2018, the Florida Supreme Court decided to go back to the Frye Standard, which was much easier to implement.

Talk to a St. Petersburg Medical Malpractice Attorney 

The St. Petersburg medical malpractice attorney of Masterson & Hoag, P.A. has successfully recovered millions in damages for our clients. If you have been injured by medical negligence, please give us a call or contact us online.



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