Expert witness law sent back to committee

Amelia Flood Apr. 17, 2009, 5:50am


SPRINGFIELD – A law setting down guidelines for the use of expert witnesses in Illinois has been sent back to the State Senate's Assignment Committee. If passed, the law could change how trial lawyers fit expert testimony into their battle strategies.

The bill is sponsored by Republican Sen. Kirk W. Dillard and was first read Feb 20. It was re-referred to the Assignments Committee April 3.

Under Dillard's proposal, Illinois's standards of expert testimony would be brought into line with those practiced in federal court.

"Provides that a non-expert's opinion or inference testimony is limited to opinions or inferences that are rationally based on his or her perception, helpful to a clear understanding of his or her testimony or the determination of a fact in issue, and not based on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge," the bill's summary reads.

The bill also sets up requirements for expert pay, qualifications, testimony and other issues.

In Belleville attorney Thomas Q. Keefe, Jr.'s view, it is unlikely the bill will become law. Keefe said that, although he has not read the bill in question, its subject is not new.

In his view, it's likely the Dillard bill looks to apply the so-called Daubert rule – the rule governing expert witnesses and their qualifications in federal court – to Illinois. Illinois goes by the Frye standard, which is not as stringent as Daubert, Keefe said.

Given the heavily Democratic make-up of the General Assembly, Keefe thinks it is doubtful the bill will leave committee.

"This is one of those things that comes up every so often," Keefe said. "Every year, each side comes up with a wish-list. I'd say its chances of passing are slim to none."

The bill was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee before it was returned to the Assignments Committee.

A 2007 bill on expert witnesses died in the legislature along with other tort reform items.

The current Senate bill is SB1965.

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