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The landmark case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), set the standard for admissibility of scientific expert testimony under the Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE).
Before the enactment of the FRE, the common-law test set out in Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (D.C. Cir. 1923), governed admissibility of such evidence. Frye held that scientific expert testimony was admissible only if the expert’s scientific knowledge was derived from methods that were “generally accepted” in the scientific community.
The result was that cutting-edge techniques were often excluded. However, the drafters of the FRE did not incorporate the Frye standard into FRE 702, which governed testimony from expert witnesses.
This set the stage for the conflict in Daubert.
The facts of the case are this: Merrell Dow produced a morning-sickness drug called Bendectin. The plaintiffs were children born with birth defects that they alleged were caused by their mothers’ taking Bendectin while pregnant.
Merrell Dow offered evidence of peer-reviewed studies indicating that Bendectin was safe. The plaintiffs tried to counter this with alternative studies using newer methodology that had not yet gained general acceptance in the scientific community.
This set the stage for the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule Frye. Under Daubert, scientific expert testimony need only be based on reliable principles and methods to be admissible (provided all other evidentiary rules are satisfied).