Three years ago, Florida lawmakers altered the standards for admissibility of expert witness testimony in the courtroom. We went from being a “Frye” state (based on the 1923 precedent in Frye v. U.S.) to a “Daubert” state (based on the 1993 case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.).
The latter is a more stringent standard of weighing scientific methodology. This change has had a profound impact on civil litigation in Florida, requiring that expert witness testimony (needed in so many cases, from medical malpractice claims to car accident injury lawsuits) be thoroughly vetted. The Frye test required that the methodology or theory from which a scientific deduction was made had to have gained acceptance in that particular field. Daubert, meanwhile, the judge is responsible for being the gatekeeper of the expert witness’s qualifications and also ensuring that the testimony is both relevant and reliable. With regard to methodology, this generally means the court has to consider whether the theory or technique has been or can be tested, whether it has been subject to peer review, what the known or potential rate of error is and whether the theory is generally accepted in the relevant scientific community.
In a recent product liability case considered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, justices reversed a $3 million award in favor of the plaintiff after finding the trial court judge failed to perform the proper gatekeeping duties with regard to plaintiff’s expert witness. Further, without that testimony, plaintiff did not have enough evidence to prove his claim, and therefore justices issued an order remanding the case for entry of a judgment in defendant car manufacturer’s favor. Continue reading →