WHAT QUALITIES OF A SCIENTIFIC METHODOLOGY MUST BE DEMONSTRATED BEFORE IT CAN BE PRESENTED TO THE JURY?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals., Inc., 509 US 579 (1993).
This case addresses the following issue:
What qualities of a scientific methodology must be demonstrated before it can be presented to the jury?
In this case, the Court reversed a long-standing principal regarding when scientific evidence could be presented to the jury. Id. at 584-85. In its place, the Court found that an expert could testify regarding his or her scientific conclusions so long as the judge finds that the expert’s methodology is reliable, which will often include if the methodology is generally accepted, if it has been subjected to peer review, if the method can be accurately tested, and any potential rate of error known regarding the methodology. Id. at 594-95. Once the judge, acting as the “gatekeeper,” is satisfied that methodology is sufficiently reliable, the expert can present his or her conclusions, based upon this methodology, to the jury. Id. at 596.
In this case, several children were born with severe birth defects. Id. at 582. These defects were alleged to have been caused by the use of an anti-nausea medication, Bendectin, by pregnant women. Id. Defendant presented the report of an expert stating that no study had linked Bendectin to birth defects in humans. Id. The Plaintiffs presented testimony from several additional experts, each noting significant findings of birth defects in animal studies. Id. Using the standard then accepted in Federal courts, the district court did not allow the consideration of any of Plaintiffs’ experts because they relied upon methodologies outside of the generally accepted techniques of the field. Id. at 584.
The Court began by examining the then-current test of admissibility announced in Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (D.C. Cir. 1923). Id. at 585. This test required that the methodology used must be “sufficiently established to have gained general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs.” Id. at 586. However, since this test’s adoption in 1923, the Federal Rules of Evidence had been adopted, which the Court held to had replaced the Frye test. Id. at 587.
Looking at Rule 702, the Court noted that “nothing in the test of this Rule establishes general acceptance as an absolute prerequisite to admissibility.” Id. at 588. Instead, the Rule establishes a “flexible” test which looks to the scientific validity of offered methodologies. Id. at 594-95. So long as the trial court is convinced that the offer methodology is sufficiently reliable, any resistance by other members of the scientific community or competing methodologies can be explored on cross examination. Id. at 595.
The Court offered a list of factors which would often be helpful in making such a finding, but reiterated that the test is flexible and may look to factors outside of those listed. Id at 594. First, if the methodology has been tested. Id. at 593. Second, if the methods have been published or otherwise subjected to peer review by other members of the scientific field. Id. Third, what the potential rate of error is for that methodology. Id. at 594. Fourth, what degree of acceptance the methodology has achieved in its field. Id.