Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
509 U.S. 579 (1993)

  • Daubert and Schuller were born with birth defects.  They claimed that the problems were caused by their mothers’ use of a drug called Bendectin, made by Dow.
  • At trial, Dow made a motion for summary judgment, claiming that Daubert was unable to come up with any admissible evidence that Bendectin causes birth defects.
    • Dow offered an affidavit by an epidemiologist named Lamm that claimed that there was no link between Bendectin and birth defects.
      • Epidemiology is the study of statistics related to disease.
  • In response, Daubert offered affidavits from eight experts, all claiming that there was a link.
    • Daubert’s experts based their findings on pharmacological studies of the chemical structure of Bendectin, not on epidemiological data.
      • Basically, they said that the chemical structure of Bendectin was similar to the structure of other chemicals known to cause birth defects, so there was a good chance Bendectin caused birth defects too.
  • The Trial Court granted the motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case.  Daubert appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that scientific evidence is only admissible if the principle upon which it is based is “sufficiently established to have general acceptance in the field to which it belongs.”
      • Basically, the Court felt that epidemiological data, which was based on decades of data, was stronger than the chemical structure argument, which was based on really recent discoveries.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.  Daubert appealed.
    • The Appellate Court agreed that expert testimony must come from a “generally accepted technique.”
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case back for trial.
    • The US Supreme Court noted that the standard for expert testimony has been the Frye Test.
      • The Frye Test, (from Frye vs. United States (293 F. 1013 (DC Cir 1923)), basically says that a scientific method must have “gained such standing and scientific recognition among authorities as would justify the courts in admitting expert testimony deduced from the discovery, development, and experiments thus far made.”
    • The US Supreme Court found that the common law application of the Frye Test had been superceded the adoption of FRE 702.
      • FRE 702 says that expert testimony shall be admitted if it will assist the trier of fact to understand evidence or to determine a fact at issue.
      • Nothing in FRE 702 establishes a “general acceptance” criteria.
    • The Court noted that under FRE 702, the Trial Judge still had an obligation to ensure that all scientific evidence was not only relevant, but also reliable.  So not every crackpot idea was going to be admissible.  The Court suggests several factors that a Trial Judge can look at to determine if the science should be admitted:
      • Whether the theory is generally accepted,
      • Whether the theory or technique has been tested,
      • Whether it has been subjected to peer review and publication,
      • The scientific technique’s known potential error rate,
      • The existence and maintenance of standards controlling its operation.
      • Also, see the Advisory Notes from FRE 702.