Daubert Provides For Liberal Admission Of Expert Testimony

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a district court decision to grant summary judgment based on excluding three plaintiff experts regarding causation.  While the district court ruled the experts did not reliably exclude alternative causes of injury and therefore their testimony was inadmissible under Daubert, the Court of Appeals concluded that this was not an appropriate application of Daubert and that the experts’ opinions could be of assistance to the trier of fact.

The case, Scott Johnson, as guardian ad litem of H.T.P., a minor (“Johnson”) v. Mead Johnson & Company, LLC (“Mead”), involved a product liability claim.  Johnson’s experts undertook a differential diagnosis, which ruled in the contested cause of the illness, while ruling out other possible causes.  However, the district court agreed with Mead that the Johnson experts’ differential diagnoses failed to address issues contrary to their conclusions and that they used unreliable methodology.

In reversing the district court decision, the Court of Appeals explained that Daubert and the Federal Rule of Evidence 702 (see this article for a related discussion of these rules) “greatly liberalized what had been the strict Frye standards for admission of expert scientific testimony…and attempt to relax the previous roadblocks to expert testimony”.  This application was extended to all expert testimony (not just “scientific”) in Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael.  The Court of Appeals noted that “cases are legion that, correctly, under Daubert, call for the liberal admission of expert testimony

In the current case, the Court of Appeals admonished the district court for having

violated these liberal admission standards by resolving doubts in favor of keeping the testimony out and relying upon its own assessment of the correctness of the expert opinions. By doing so, it disallowed the adversarial process to work….If the district court believed there were better grounds for some alternative conclusion… or there were some flaws in the experts’ methods…, because the expert testimony in this case was within “the range where experts might reasonably differ,” the jury, not the trial court, should be the one to “decide among the conflicting views of different experts.” Kumho Tire, 526 U.S. at 153.”

And further described that:

The district court abused its discretion in excluding Johnson’s experts. The methodology employed by Johnson’s experts was scientifically valid, could properly be applied to the facts of this case, and, therefore, was reliable enough to assist the trier of fact. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 593-94. With the expert testimony proposed, Johnson has created an issue of fact for a jury on the issue of [causation and] is entitled to attempt to prove his claim…”

Additional discussion of this case is available in this related article.

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