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At-Work Premature Birth Suit Thrown Out of Court

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As citizens, it is important that we are able to hold businesses accountable for their actions, particularly when those actions lead directly to harm to us or to others. Liability and personal injury laws are designed to do just that. However, for Floridians, the situation just got more difficult. A Florida court has dismissed the personal injury case of a worker who experienced a premature birth due to workplace stress.

The Case

The case involves one Maria Franco Perez, who alleges that the incredible amount of stress placed on her at Bell South Telecommunications caused her to give birth 20 weeks early. Her pregnancy was already deemed high risk. Her doctor had recommended that she be given extra bathroom breaks due to the high risk of the pregnancy (Perez’s first) and the significant number of complications she was experiencing.

Apparently those recommendations and acting on her doctor’s advice made Perez “nonperforming” in the eyes of her employer, who fired her. Two days later, Perez experienced a placental abruption, and birthed her son 20 weeks too early. Her doctor advised that the premature birth could have been caused by stress she experienced on the job, as well as stress due to the wrongful termination. However, rather than basing his opinion on actual medical studies, the doctor based it on his personal experience.

That was the downfall of Maria’s case. Florida once used a statute that allowed expert testimony to be vetted by the jury, not be a judge prior to going to trial. To reiterate, all expert testimony could be limited to that person’s opinion, whether it was based on scientific knowledge or not. This left the decision about whether or not the case had merit to the jury, which is where all such things should be decided. The judge should only be responsible for handing down sentences or setting amounts. They are judges, not juries, and that line should not be blurred.

However, the state of Florida has enacted what’s called the Daubert Standard now. This standard states that any expert testimony or opinion must be based solely on scientific method or scientific knowledge. It completely disallows personal experience, even 20+ years of hands-on experience as a doctor. Because of the new standard, the judge in the case was able to throw it out before it ever made it to a jury, depriving Maria of her rights.

The Ramifications

The ramifications of Maria’s premature birth, injury to her young child, and subsequently having her case summarily dismissed, not by a jury, but at the whim of a judge should send shivers down the spine of anyone who might ever bring a personal injury lawsuit in Florida. It sets a dangerous precedent, but also removes a key segment of the decision making process. While juries are not always accurate, it’s far better for plaintiffs if their claims are analyzed by a jury of their peers, rather than by a single judge who may or may not have any empathy with the injured party.

It also sets precedent in how future expert testimony might be handled in any type of personal injury case. Any expert testifying from his or her personal experience, no matter how great that experience might be, can be dismissed completely if they do not have scientific literature or studies to back up their findings. Not only that, but all such testimony must now be subject to testing and independent validation, neither of which has a place in a personal injury case.