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Local Attorneys Debate New Standard for Expert Testimony in Cour - KOAM TV 7

Local Attorneys Debate New Standard for Expert Testimony in Courtrooms

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A new Missouri law that will soon take effect aims at making the court of law more efficient.  Judges in certain types of cases will have exclusive say on whether a person can testify as an expert witness.

Governor Eric Greitens says this new law will spur the economy by improving the legal climate for businesses.  Local attorneys we talked to agree there will probably be fewer lawsuits against businesses.  But they disagree on if there's a problem to begin with.

How to debate is still the center of this debate.

"It hurts people who want their day in court," says Joplin attorney Scott Vorhees.

"It actually puts more responsibility on the attorneys to bring in experts who actually qualify," says Joplin attorney Elizabeth Turner.

"It's not going to impact most of our car wrecks, fall-down cases, those kinds of things," says Vorhees.  "In medical malpractice, it's key because you have to have expert medical witnesses who explain this to the jury."

Before this new law, attorneys on both sides could argue among themselves if an expert should testify in a jury trial.

"But they only had about two standards," says Turner.

...Standards well-known within the legal profession.  This new law gives judges more standards.

"One of the things is they have to have put their technique or their theory in publication for other peers to review," says Turner.

Vorhees gives an example worrisome to him.

"A brand new researcher who has just discovered a cure for cancer, for example, wouldn't be able to testify in court.  To my way of thinking, if they have used the correct methodology...just because they're on the cutting-edge, it doesn't mean they're excluded," says Vorhees.

But Turner says attorneys will still have chances to argue about their expert witnesses.

"It is something the attorneys can appeal at some point.  So there are safeguards in place.  Generally, the judge is going to error on the side of the person introducing the expert," says Turner.

Appealing a judge's decision, though, could cost an attorney and their client more money.

"It's driving down the number of lawsuits because our Governor thinks it will help attract business.  I mean, I'm all about supporting business in Missouri, but not at the cost of screwing over somebody who has been hurt," says Vorhees.

This new law is slated to take effect August 28th.  The new guidelines for expert testimony have already been put to use in other states and in federal court cases.

Click here to view the House bill, now law.

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