American Coatings Association

D.C.’s Highest Court Adopts Daubert Standard


The District of Columbia’s highest court, the D.C. Court of Appeals, recently adopted a stricter test for the admissibility of expert testimony in product liability cases. The court adopted the Daubert standard, which requires not only that an expert use reliable scientific principles and methods, but also that those principles and methods be properly applied to the particular facts of each case. In Motorola, Inc. v. Murray, the D.C. Court of Appeals stated that adopting the Daubert standard will lead “to better decision-making by juries and trial judges alike.” ACA has been a strong proponent of the Daubert as the paradigm for a national standard for admissibility of scientific expert testimony.

To protect against the use of such “junk science” in the courtroom, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a series of rulings in the 1990s — known as the Daubert trilogy — instructing trial courts to act as gatekeepers so as to only allow relevant and reliable scientific evidence to be presented to a jury.

ACA strongly supports upholding the Daubert standard for admission of expert, reliable scientific evidence, a principle focus of ACA’s many amicus filings. Most recently, ACA urged the Florida Supreme Court to retain the Daubert standard for expert scientific evidence. Through its Amicus and Legal Tracking System program, ACA chooses select prominent cases each year in which it files an amicus, or “friend of the court” brief as a show of support for issues that can adversely impact the industry. Specifically, the Amicus Program seeks to prevent court decisions that establish bad precedent, to overturn such precedent where it currently exists, and to advance the legal protection of property due process and liberties that rightfully belong to good faith corporate interests and behavior. Since the program’s 2007 inception, ACA has filed some 50 amicus briefs.

In Motorola, Inc. v. Murray, the underlying action is the lead case in a group of cases alleging that exposure to radiofrequency emissions from cell phones cause brain cancer. The Superior Court judge issued an order admitting some, but not all, of the plaintiff’s expert testimony. The District of Columbia is one of only three jurisdictions that still uses the less rigorous unmodified Frye test to determine the admissibility of expert testimony instead of Federal Rules of Evidence 702 and the Daubert standard. As a result, Judge Weisberg became the first judge in America to allow expert testimony that cell phones are more likely than not to cause brain cancer. He felt he was compelled to admit the testimony even though he concluded it was unreliable and inadmissible under Daubert, However, he granted leave for an immediate appeal.

ACA has argued that Frye does not serve justice in modern litigation where expert opinion invokes the due process right to a fair trial; and that the outdated Frye standard simply has not kept pace over its nearly century-old existence with the rapid advancements in technology and science, a fact underscored by Frye’s limited focus on a “general acceptance” test.

ACA believes that the manner in which courts handle expert evidence is an important factor in evaluating a state’s business climate and deciding whether to build new or expand existing facilities, and in its amicus briefs has underscored that experts frequently drive up, or down, the cost of litigation and settlements due to their substantial influence on the trier of fact. Moreover, ACA maintains that the need for experts is magnified in today’s litigation compared to the relatively minor role experts played 93 years ago when Frye was decided. Issues at the core of litigation are much more complex today, which creates greater need for experts to help the trier-of-fact reach truth.

Daubert provides much greater assurance that justice is served in modern litigation and is critical to protect the due process right to a fair trial, according to ACA. As such, the association hails the D.C. Court of Appeals adoption of the Daubert standard.

Contact ACA’s Tom Graves for more information.

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