The Florida Supreme Court recently denied requests to review its controversial decision that revised standards for expert witnesses in lawsuits earlier this year.
That May 2019 case involved an $8 million personal injury verdict that was successfully appealed by the defendants. Pursuant to DeLisle v. Crane, a case that hinged on the admission of expert testimony, the Florida Supreme Court adopted chapter 2013-107, sections 1 and 2, Laws of Florida (Daubert amendments), that amended §§ 90.702 (Testimony by experts) and 90.704 (Basis of opinion testimony by experts) of the Florida Evidence Code. This change replaced the Frye standard for admitting certain expert testimony with the Daubert standard, the standard for expert testimony found in Federal Rule of Evidence 702.
Recently, in a 6-1 ruling, the Florida Supreme Court rejected requests for rehearing from the Code and Rules of Evidence Committee of The Florida Bar and Jacksonville attorneys Howard Coker and James Holland. The Supreme Court did not provide any reasoning. Justice Jorge Labarga dissented.
But in 2017, the Florida Supreme Court, vested with the power to draft court procedures, blocked the move to the Daubert standard. In its 4-2 decision, the Court stressed “grave constitutional concerns” about the Legislature’s attempt to change the expert witness standard.
Justice Polston noted in 2017, “Has the entire federal court system for the last 23 years as well as 36 states denied parties’ rights to a jury trial and access to courts? Do only Florida and a few other states have a constitutionally sound standard for the admissibility of expert testimony? Of course not.”
With that, the Florida Supreme Court declined to adopt the legislature’s 2013 revisions to the Florida Evidence Code codifying Daubert, citing constitutional concerns raised by the Florida Bar’s Code and Rules of Evidence Committee members and practitioners who opposed the amendments. But as the Court wrote in May, “the . . . “grave constitutional concerns” regarding the Daubert standard are unfounded.”
Governor Ron DeSantis’ appointed three new justices to fill vacancies this spring, which resulted in a change of direction in the high court—one that was more accepting of the Daubert standard.
In a June motion for rehearing, the Bar committee argued that the Supreme Court made the change to the Daubert standard without going through a typical process for setting rules.
“While it is clear the (Supreme) Court supports the content of the Daubert amendments as a rule of evidence, there has been no input from any member of the bench, the bar, or the citizenry that accounts for the change,” the committee’s motion said.