Companies are responsible for the health and safety of their employees. Injuries and illnesses caused by work-related stress must be thoroughly investigated in order for the employee to be sufficiently compensated for their ordeal. But, what if the law, unfortunately, gets in the way of justice? A perfect example is the story of Maria Franco Perez who tried to sue her former employer, Bell South Telecommunications in 2014 for the high level of work stress that caused her to give birth 20 weeks early.
Franco was at a high-risk pregnancy and the advice of her obstetrician, Dr. Isidro Cardella, included that she’d be given frequent bathroom breaks during her workday. Bell South fired her for “nonperformance.” Two days later, Perez suffered a placental abruption that caused her to deliver her son prematurely. Cardella believes that the premature birth was caused by the stress from getting fired. Consequently, Perez tried to sue her former employer; however, the case was shut down due to the new version of the evidence code in Florida that has ceased to consider the testimony of her obstetrician as “scientific evidence.”
The old version of the Florida Evidence Code based on the Frye Standard would have considered Dr. Cardella as the expert witness and his testimony would have moved the case beyond a trial judge and to a jury. It would have allowed the opinion of the obstetrician, which is based upon his experience and education, to be heard by a jury. The new version of the evidence code that uses the Daubert standard, however, now requires that the expert’s opinion must be based on “scientific method” in order to be admissible to a jury. In Perez’s case, her doctor’s opinion must then be backed by empirical data that proves that work-related stress can indeed cause high-risk pregnancies to result in premature birth; and since it was not, the doctor was not considered an expert witness and her case was immediately dismissed.
This movement in the Florida Evidence Code is bad news for those who are injured and are seeking justice in Florida. In personal injury cases, expert witnesses’ testimonies are helpful for plaintiffs in gauging future medical costs and lost wages, as well as in determining why and how accidents happen. They provide valuable insight as the case progresses.
As the shift from the Frye standard to the Daubert standard makes a lot of difference in litigation, their difference is worth noting. In 1993, the Supreme Court gave a verdict that the Frye Test was not sufficient as the general acceptance of scientific evidence; effectively adopting the Daubert test instead. Many states have since switched over to Daubert standard, while many states still stick to the Frye standard. One major difference between the two is who decides and defines what is scientific. In Daubert, the judge serves as the “gatekeeper,” assuring and determining whether the testimony of the expert truly comes from scientific knowledge and empirical data. On the other hand, to meet the Frye standard or general acceptance, the evidence or testimony presented must be generally accepted by a significant segment of the associated scientific field or community.
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