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Maryland considers law that would change expert testimony rules

If you’ve been injured due to someone’s negligence, who would you want to testify on your behalf — an expert who knows has enough experience to break down complex information in a way that’s easily understood by laypeople and knows how to handle himself or herself on the stand or an expert without those slowly-developed skills?

The answer seems pretty obvious. Who wouldn’t want the expert that understands how a trial works and what’s important for the jury to hear?

Unfortunately, Maryland law has an arbitrary quirk that imposes what is known as the “20 percent” rule on expert witnesses. Under the current laws, an expert witness can’t spend over 20 percent of his or her time doing work related to court cases. That includes any time that he or she needs to prepare for a case. The rule is so strict that things like malpractice cases can often be held up while defendants try to prove that the expert witness engaged to testify about their negligence is over the line by even 1 or 2 percent.

The concept behind the rule is simple: Legislators wanted to keep experts who were willing to sell their opinions to the highest bidder out of the courtroom. They thought it would encourage more honest evaluations and testimony.

The narrowness of the rule makes it difficult for people trying to prove they’re victims of malpractice, accounting fraud and other types of injuries to get expert testimony on their case. It may cause unnecessary delays while they try to locate an expert who has space on his or her calendar to testify.

Fortunately, there’s new legislation coming before Maryland’s Assembly that could change all that. SB 30 is a new bill that would repeal the old law and make it easier for plaintiffs to pursue personal injury claims. Essentially, it would be up to the defense attorney to demonstrate the unreliability of an expert witness who wasn’t really offering a genuine opinion.

Naturally, Maryland’s Medical Society isn’t thrilled with the proposal and strongly opposes it. Defense attorneys, however, applaud the measure because it can open doors for victims to more easily receive the compensation they are due.

Source: The Baltimore Sun, “The '20 percent rule' – an arbitrary standard in malpractice suits,” May 01, 2018