Many personal injury lawsuits depend on the testimony of expert witnesses. Experts are those witnesses who have specific knowledge in a certain subject relevant to the case. Their testimony is expected to clarify the issues for a jury or to confirm allegations of negligence. For example, in a medical malpractice case, experts are called upon to testify whether or not the allegedly negligent practitioner was acting according to the standard of other similar practitioners. Another example is a negligence case where the victim is permanently disabled. Experts may be called upon to testify how the victim’s life will be different and what the damages are, including future medical expenses and the need for rehabilitation.
Defendants often object to and challenge the admissibility of a plaintiff’s expert witness. The U.S. Supreme Court has adopted certain rules that must be followed in federal court for the admissibility of expert testimony. Maine has not officially adopted the Supreme Court standard, but has a very similar test for admissibility of expert testimony in Maine state court cases.
A Daubert Challenge
Defendants now base their challenges on the 1993 U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Daubert v. Merrill Pharmaceuticals (Daubert).The High Court established a test federal courts must use in determining whether or not to admit expert testimony. UnderDaubert, in order for expert testimony to be admissible as evidence it must meet five criteria:
- The theory must have been tested.
- It must have been “subjected to peer review and publication.”
- There must be a known or potential error rate.
- There must be standards that control its operation.
- The theory must be accepted within the relevant scientific community.
In addition, the court considering a challenge must also act as a gatekeeper in preventing “junk science from entering the courtroom as evidence.” Although Daubert applies to all cases in federal court, it was left to each state to develop their own rules for admissibility of expert testimony.
Daubert Challenges in Maine State Court
Maine has not specifically adopted the Daubert test for state court personal injury cases, but the Maine Supreme Court has cited the case favorably in several opinions. In one often cited opinion from 2005, Searles v. Fleetwood Homes of Pennsylvania, Inc., the Court discussed the test for admission of expert testimony in Maine courts and noted there is a “two-part standard.”
- The testimony is relevant; and,
- It will assist the trier of fact “in understanding the evidence or determining a fact in issue.”
The Court added that the testimony “must also meet a threshold level of reliability.” In order to meet that threshold, a court may consider whether the proposed testimony is based on scientific matters that “have been generally accepted or conform to a generally accepted explanatory theory.” “General acceptance” is not a required element if the court is satisfied “that the proffered evidence is sufficiently reliable to be held relevant.”
The Court refused to adopt the Daubert test, but noted in a footnote that the outcome of the case would have been the same under Maine’s test as under the Daubert test. The plaintiffs in that 2005 case would win their argument for admissibility of their expert witness under both tests.
Questions about the Daubert Challenge?
If you were injured by the negligence of another, contact our attorneys at Fales & Fales for a free case evaluation and discussion of whether your case may need the services of an expert to present evidence on any relevant aspect of your case.
Image via Pixabay