Expert Testimony Under the Daubert Standard

When it comes to personal injury and wrongful death cases in Florida, it is not uncommon to use expert witnesses to explain complicated issues to the jury regarding the injury or the cause of the injury. There are, however, strict requirements about who can qualify as an expert witness. Under § 90.702, Fla. Stat., an expert witness must possess the knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education needed to convey an opinion to the judge or jury based on sufficient facts or data, applying reliable principles and methods to the facts of the case. These requirements amount to the Daubert standard.

In Baan v. Columbia County, the First District had to decide whether the expert testimony of an emergency room doctor about the standard of care and the conduct of emergency personnel responding to a 911 call was appropriately excluded.

The facts of the case are as follows. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) was called for an infant who was experiencing respiratory distress. Once EMS arrived on the scene, they showed the infant’s aunt how to use a nebulizer and left within 10 minutes of their arrival. The EMS report indicated that the child had normal vital signs. Approximately 50 minutes later, another 911 call was placed that revealed that the infant had stopped breathing altogether and that he was blue. The baby was also cold to the touch. The infant was air lifted to a nearby hospital but pronounced dead the next day.

At trial, the plaintiff retained an emergency room physician expert who testified that EMS failed to follow the appropriate standard of care by not putting the child in an ambulance equipped with oxygen on their initial visit. The physician concluded that the baby would have survived if these actions had been taken. Furthermore, the physician stated that EMS should have performed a more detailed examination of the child and taken him to the hospital to be seen by a doctor, based on his history of asthma, his age, and his inability to breathe. The expert also noted that EMS personnel breached their own protocol for “respiratory distress.”

The defendant moved to exclude this expert testimony, claiming it was unreliable under the Daubert standard. Specifically, the defendant argued that the expert’s opinion was rooted in the assumption that the child was going through respiratory problems at the time of the first visit, which was why he had a respiratory arrest within the house.

The trial court agreed with the defendant’s reasoning that the expert had rejected evidence that he should have accepted, namely the EMS report showing that the child had normal vital signs on the first visit.

The appellate court, however, reversed the lower court’s decision, finding that the expert had the qualifications and experience to arrive at his conclusion. The court also noted that the physician used reliable methods and based his opinion on the information available to him. As a result, he was not required to accept the EMS report as true, especially in light of testimony that EMS had not performed any examination on the child during the first visit. Thus, the case was remanded for further consideration.

If you’ve lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, you have rights. At the Law Offices of Robert Dixon, our Miami wrongful death attorneys have the skill, confidence, and dedication to handle your claim. We represent clients throughout South Florida. To learn more, feel free to call us at 1-877-499-HURT (4878) or contact us online today.

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