Earlier this week, Governor Eric Greitens signed Missouri HB 153 into law. HB 153, which supplants Missouri’s existing expert witness standard with that set forth in Federal Rules of Evidence 702, 703, 704 and 705, effectively submits expert testimony in most civil and criminal case to the analysis set forth in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993).
Until now, R.S.Mo. 490.065 has set forth the requirements for admission of expert testimony in Missouri state courts. In its present form, the language of the statute has varied significantly from the familiar expert witness standard set forth in the Federal Rules of Evidence and the rules of numerous sister states that track the federal rules. The standard for applying the requirements of R.S.Mo. 490.065 has been nebulously outlined in Missouri case law. Missouri appellate decisions have noted on occasion that Daubert and its progeny could provide “guidance” where the federal rules and the Missouri rules match up. See, e.g. State Bd. of Registration for the Healing Arts v. McDonagh, 123 S.W.3d 146, 155-156 (Mo. 2003) (Wolff, J, concurring in part and dissenting in part), and Goddard v. State, 144 S.W.3d 848, 852-853 (Mo. App. S.D. 2004) . On other occasions, however, Missouri courts have plainly stated that Daubert did not govern the admissibility of expert testimony in Missouri cases. See, e.g., McGuire v. Seltsam, 138 S.W.3d 718, at fn. 3 (Mo. 2004). As one Supreme Court Justice noted in a concurrence to McDonagh, supra:
“Forget Frye. Forget Daubert. Read the statute. Section 490.065 is written, conveniently, in English. It has 204 words. Those straightforward statutory words are all you really need to know about the admissibility of expert testimony in civil proceedings. Section 490.065 allows expert opinion testimony where "scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact…" McDonagh, supra at 160.
Things have not proven so straightforward, and with no definitive standard, trial judges understandably have had a difficult time sorting the wheat from the chaff, allowing some questionable “expert” testimony to slip through the cracks and into the jury box. When HB 153 takes effect, in August 2017, and Daubert unquestionably sets the standard for admissible expert testimony, this risk will be considerably lessened. In federal courts, Daubert has for decades proven a fair and effective standard for assessing the admissibility of expert testimony. Its introduction into Missouri law will be a welcome change.