Doctors support expert witness standards, I-LAW survey shows

Ann Knef Mar. 19, 2007, 3:34pm

Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch (I-LAW) released a survey of Illinois physicians which found that doctors overwhelmingly support enacting new standards to govern medical expert witness testimony.

Lance Trover, executive director of I-LAW, said the results indicate a very serious problem with junk science making its way into Illinois courtrooms. The survey showed that almost two-thirds of the 176 Illinois doctors interviewed have personally seen or heard statements by a medical expert witness in a courtroom that they believe to be inaccurate or based on questionable science.

Trover said that misleading, inaccurate or fraudulent medical expert testimony leads to miscarriages of justice and erodes the credibility and value of expert witnesses in court.

"Junk science props up junk lawsuits," he said.

I-LAW is calling on state legislators to pass a bill that sets standards for admissibility of expert testimony.

HB1896 establishes requirements for qualifications of expert witnesses and limits the testimony of non-experts. It sets the same standards for admissibility of expert testimony as is in practice in federal courts.

The bill is sponsored by Republican State Reps. Renee Kosel (Mokena); Ron Stephens (Greenville); Raymond Poe (Springfield); Jerry L. Mitchell (Rock Falls) and Sidney H. Mathias (Arlington Heights).

It will be debated Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee in Springfield. State Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville) is the only Metro-East legislator serving on the committee.

Trover said he hopes the survey results will push legislators to vote for the "common sense standards" contained in HB1896.

"If legislators vote against this bill, they are defying the wishes of Illinois physicians and are voting to keep junk science in our courts," he said.

Conducted by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Virginia, the survey interviewed doctors among a broad range of specialty. Other findings include:

  • Almost all Illinois physicians believe there is a problem with medical expert witnesses who provide testimony on issues beyond their specialty (97%) and on cases with which they have little or no experience.

  • Illinois physicians are almost twice as likely to believe lawyers who argue a case place "a lot" of importance on a physician's willingness to adapt medical findings to support the lawyer's case (66%) compared to the physician's qualifications within a particular medical specialty.

  • Nearly all physicians in the state (97%) believe it is unethical for medical expert witnesses to receive payment contingent upon the outcome of their testimony.

  • Almost all physicians (94%) support the creation of a new code that will ensure that only those who are truly qualified are serving as expert witnesses.

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