Illinois Considering Mandatory Pretrial Hearings for Expert Witnesses

The Illinois House committee is considering Bill HB1896, which would require pretrial hearing on the merits of any expert witness in a civil trial. Though the bill would apply to all civil litigation, the debate in the Illinois House committee will focus on medical experts in malpractice trials.

As stated in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Doctors blame lawyers for filing what they see as frivolous lawsuits. Lawyers fault insurers, saying the companies raise rates and then blame the civil justice system.

Many doctors still have qualms about the issue and particularly criticize the credibility of expert witness testimony, according to the results of a study released Monday by Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch, a watchdog group that supports the bill. In a mail survey of 176 Illinois physicians, 97 percent said they believe at least some problem exists with the system. And 65 percent said they had personally seen or heard inaccurate or questionable statements by a medical expert witness.

“It’s this junk science that is in the courtroom that encourages more frivolous lawsuits that clog up the system,” said Lance Trover, executive director of the group. “Why not just get a threshold – some common sense requirements – that assure that a judge can keep this out of the courtroom?”

One of the most controversial parts of the bill allows the expert witness hearing to be appealed before a trial proceeded. This could increase costs for plaintiffs, and delay trials.