Origins of the Daubert Challenge in Federal Court 

Whether a lawsuit is based in personal injury, an intellectual property challenge, a mass tort, or any other number of areas, oftentimes a major aspect figuring into a jury’s decision is the weight and reliability of testimony provided by expert witnesses on both the plaintiff and defense side. But before the jury can hear any of that expert testimony, the court will have to rule that the expert testimony is admissible. In federal court, the standard for the admissibility of expert testimony is Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which was the standard set out in the 1993 Supreme Court case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals. As such, when the other side challenges the admissibility of expert testimony, this is called a Daubert Challenge. 

Lie Detectors and the Reign of the Frye Standard

At the time the Daubert case came before the Supreme Court, the metric that had been in place for determining the admissibility of expert testimony had been the Frye Standard. This standard - which was originated in 1923 by the District of Columbia district court which looked at the admissibility of evidence from an early-era lie detector machine - asked merely whether there was “general acceptance” of the evidence in the particular field for which it belongs (note: that 1923 court determined that there was not general acceptance of lie detector technology and therefore refused to admit it). 

Daubert Replaces the Frye Standard

The Frye “general acceptance” Standard was adopted by the federal courts and many state courts, and continued to be the prevailing standard for seven decades until the Daubert case came before the Supreme Court in 1993. In that case, two teenage boys sued a pharmaceutical subsidiary of Dow Chemical for birth defects that they had allegedly suffered through their mother’s use of the drug Benedictin. In arguing their case, the plaintiffs relied on studies done by scientists which linked Benedictin and birth defects but which appeared to have been done expressly for the purpose of bringing the plaintiffs’ case.

The plaintiffs argued that their experts’ research, which did not have general acceptance in the scientific community, should nonetheless be admissible based on the standard set forth in Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which had been put in place in 1975. The court agreed, and held that Rule 702 superseded the Frye standard. Under this new Daubert standard, the court ruled that general acceptance was not required to admit expert testimony, but instead that the judge must determine whether the expert testimony meets the following requirements of Rule 702:

  • It will help the trier of fact understand the evidence or determine a fact in issue;
  • the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
  • the testimony is the product of reliable principles or methods; and
  • the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.
  • The Daubert court further added that a judge should ask four questions in applying the above standards from Rule 702:
  • Has the methodology been tested?
  • Are there known rates of error?
  • Has the methodology been generally accepted?
  • Has the methodology been subject to peer review?

A few years later in the case of Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, the Supreme Court also applied the Daubert standard to non-scientific testimony, making it the prevailing standard for assessing the admissibility of all expert testimony.

Aftermath of Daubert

The Supreme Court sent the Daubert case back to the lower courts with the direction to apply the above standards, resulting in one of the early examples of a Daubert Challenge. In applying the above questions to the experts provided by the Daubert plaintiffs, the lower court found that the experts’ testimony fell far short of what was required by the Daubert standard and dismissed the evidence as having little to no support or peer review within the scientific community. As such, the experts’ testimony was excluded.

Work with JuriLytics in Presenting Your Expert Testimony

At JuriLytics we work with parties and counsel to make sure that their expert testimony is as compelling as possible and will meet all applicable federal and state standards for admissibility. Call us today to see how we can help in your matter. 

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