Legal Memorandum: Daubert Rule for Scientific Testimony

Issue: Under federal law, how does Daubert apply when judging a scientist-witness?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Scientist-witness; The case of Daubert
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: 78 F.3d 316; 509 U.S. 579
Cited Statutes: Fed. R. Evid. 702
Date: 11/01/2000

The case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), changed the very fabric of scientific testimony in the federal courts.  Under Daubert, a district judge asked to admit scientific evidence must determine whether the evidence is genuinely scientific, as distinct from being unscientific speculation offered by a genuine scientist. 

The facts of Daubert explain what gave rise to the need for the Supreme Court to speak.  Daubert dealt with the Bendectin anti-nausea drug, and competing scientific experts claiming that it did, or did not, cause birth defects.  The defendants in that case presented expert testimony based on a review of the scientific literature concluding that no published study had determined that the drug caused birth defects.  Plaintiffs countered with numerous scientists who testified that they had performed experiments that led them to conclude that the drug could indeed cause birth defects.

The trial court and an intermediate court dismissed the case, saying that the "scientific evidence is admissible only if the principle upon which it is based is  ‘sufficiently established to have general acceptance in the field to which it belongs.’ "  509 U.S. at 583.  The Supreme Court reversed, saying in essence that the standard relied on by the lower courts had been superseded by the Federal Rules of Evidence, in particular Rule 702, which states:

If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine […]


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