Governor Scott Signs Bills Improving Florida’s Legal Climate

Today, Governor Rick Scott signed into law HB 7015, regarding expert testimony, and SB 1792, dealing with medical malpractice litigation. At the bill signing, the Governor was joined by officials with the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Medical Association, the Associated Industries of Florida and business leaders.

Governor Scott said, “Every decision that I make comes down to one word – JOBS. By signing these important bills, we’ll improve the business climate in the Sunshine State, which means more jobs and opportunities for Florida families.”

Expert Testimony

Previously, the standard by which an individual could testify was set by a 1923 court ruling, which created the “general acceptance” standard. HB 7015 replaces this outdated standard with the “Daubert Standard.” The Daubert Standard sets guidelines as to who qualifies as an expert for use during litigation.

To be deemed an expert witness under this standard, the individual had to meet basic criteria including: was their theory or technique tested; was their theory subject to peer review; what was the rate of error on their theory; and is this theory generally accepted in the scientific community?

The Governor said, “These are reasonable standards, yet they weren’t practiced in Florida. In fact, Florida was the only state in the South that did not use this common sense method for determining who is an expert. By signing HB 7015 into law, we will create a fairer system for Florida families.”

Medical Malpractice

SB 1792 provides clarification on how expert witnesses are used in medical malpractice cases. Currently, expert witnesses can testify if they have practiced in the “field,” but they don’t have to have practiced in the same “specialty” that’s in question. SB 1972 allows only expert witnesses to be able to testify if they have practiced in the same exact specialty that’s being litigated.

The legislation also allows subsequent doctors who may be deposed to retain an attorney. Today, when a plaintiff begins proceedings against a doctor – there are usually several subsequent doctors that also treated the same patient.

From that point, attorneys from both sides can engage the subsequent doctors to gain more information for their cases. These doctors – who may have little relation to these cases – can be pulled into a legal proceeding with no legal representation. SB 1792 will create a legal system so that health care providers and patients rights are both equally protected.

Senator Richter said, “For too long, lawyers put so called expert witnesses on the stand in courtrooms with little review as to whether they actually understood the material. This bill will provide courts with a reliable set of criteria to assess whether an expert witness actually lends real credibility to a case, which will improve Florida’s legal climate.”

Senator Tom Lee said, “The Governor has done a good job in improving Florida’s job climate, and these important bills will complement those efforts. This legislation applies common sense to the law by ensuring expert witnesses must have knowledge in the specialized medical fields that are being deliberated upon in the courts. It also provides clarity to the law in ensuring doctors have access to attorneys for potential suits.”

Rep. Larry Metz said, “Replacing the antiquated 90-year-old Frye standard with the modern Daubert standard used in all federal courts and a majority of other states will empower Florida judges to vet expert testimony for reliability and accuracy. This will improve the predictability and fairness of justice in our courts, making Florida a more competitive place to open or grow a business and benefiting all Floridians. I applaud and thank Governor Scott for supporting this important legislation.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz said, “The U.S. Chamber says Florida is 41st in the nation for the quality of its legal climate – and that impacts jobs. We have to encourage job growth by creating a legal system that’s fair to all parties, and both of these bills fulfill that task.”

David Hart, Executive Vice President of the Florida Chamber of Commerce said, “While job and economic indicators prove that Florida is headed in the right direction, Florida’s 41st worst legal climate ranking is one area that holds our state back from becoming more competitive. This is an important step forward in improving Florida’s legal climate and making our state more competitive. These improvements to Florida’s legal climate will provide predictability in our state’s courtrooms and create stability for our businesses and entrepreneurs, so they can grow their workforce and take us down the road toward economic prosperity.”

Tom Feeney, President and CEO of AIF said, “Associated Industries of Florida applauds Gov. Rick Scott for signing HB 7015, a measure that will remove the hindrances to development and growth that come from costly lawsuits and unnecessary legal actions. This bill aligns Florida’s evidentiary standard for expert witness testimony with that of the federal courts and brings Florida’s courts in line with those of other states. By keeping “junk science” out of our courts, we bring about much needed change toward a more business-friendly legal climate that aligns with Gov. Scott’s, the Florida Legislature’s and AIF’s continued efforts to make Florida the place to do business.”

Bradford Berenson, Vice President for Litigation for GE said, “We applaud Florida’s decision to join the mainstream by adopting the same expert evidence standard as the Federal Courts and the majority of states. Consistent and reliable legal standards are essential for businesses to be able to plan for the future. Decisions to take on risk, whether to expand in a new area, hire a new employee, or invent a new product, all depend on the impartial and predictable enforcement of evidentiary rules like these.”

Vincent DeGennaro, M.D., Florida Medical Association President said, “All we’ve ever asked for is a level playing field. SB 1792 is all about fairness, and the fact is that Florida physicians have been at an extreme disadvantage for a long time. The FMA has worked hard for years to balance the scales, so it’s gratifying to see our efforts result in crucial reforms that will help physicians practice medicine. This is a game-changer.”

Alan Harmon, M.D., Florida Medical Association President-Elect said, “In the past, Florida’s hostile medical liability climate made it tough to attract new doctors and keep the good ones that we have, so these reforms are long overdue. By signing SB 1792 into law, the Governor has helped the FMA achieve our goal of making it easier for physicians to focus on giving Floridians the best possible medical care.”

Timothy J. Stapleton, Florida Medical Association Executive Vice President said, “The key to increasing Floridians’ access to medical care is making Florida a friendlier place for physicians to treat their patients. That’s precisely what this new law will do, and the FMA is grateful for the Governor’s signature. Rep. Matt Gaetz and Sen. Tom Lee’s leadership was a huge factor in the bill’s passage. We’re thankful for all of their efforts on behalf of physicians and patients.”

Ralph Nobo, M.D., Florida Medical Association Vice President and FMA PAC President said, “Florida’s toxic medical liability climate has led to outrageously high medical malpractice premiums, and with so many citizens in need of care, we simply can’t afford to drive away good doctors. As a practicing OB/GYN, I know that this law will make a real difference for physicians while improving Florida’s reputation as a good and fair place to practice medicine. This is a victory for doctors and patients.”


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