A recent decision from Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal provided an in-depth discussion on the differences between the old Frye standard of expert witness admissibility and the currently used Daubert test. In Perez v Bell South, the Court considered expert witness testimony in a personal injury claim, and clarified for future litigants how the Daubert requirements differed from the state’s previous Frye test. Although the decision applies only to Florida, analyzing the case is useful to attorneys who need to be aware how Daubert expert witness admissibility rules compare to the older standard.
Perez v Bell South Emphasizes Use of Daubert
Maria Perez filed a personal injury claim on behalf of her developmentally disabled son, Osmany, against her former employer for negligently creating a stressful work environment that resulted Osmany being born 20 weeks early. Ms. Perez alleged that Bell South caused her such significant difficulty that she suffered a placental abruption, which led to Osmany’s premature birth and subsequent developmental deficits. As part of her case, Maria called upon the medical expert testimony of Dr. Isidro Cardella, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist. Dr. Cardella testified that, in his opinion, Bell South’s refusal to allow Ms. Perez frequent bathroom breaks or limit her working hours to 40 created such stress on her body that she suffered the placental abruption.
The trial court dismissed Dr. Cardella’s expert testimony and Ms. Perez’s case because it was based solely on his opinion as a medical expert. Applying the Frye test, the trial judge determined that an opinion not supported by medical evidence or research is inadmissible. Ms. Perez appealed, arguing that “pure opinion” testimony does not fall within the guidelines of Frye. On appeal, Florida’s Third District Court correctly made the dispute over Dr. Cardella’s testimony moot by analyzing under the state’s newly adopted Daubert standard – clarifying for attorneys, and judges, how expert witness testimony, including opinion, is to be evaluated in the future.
Daubert Test v Frye Test
Created by the 1993 Supreme Court decision in Daubert v Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, the Daubert standard sets forth an evidentiary rule that determines whether or not expert witnesses are permitted to testify at trial. Over the last two decades, all federal jurisdictions and over half of the states have implemented the Daubert test, however, a number of states, including California and Illinois, have yet to make the switch. Relevant to the Perez case, Florida’s legislature enacted a law that made the Daubert standard the official state rule as of July 2013.
Prior to Daubert, courts analyzed expert witness testimony under a test established in the 1923 case, Frye v United States. The Frye test simply required courts to determine if an expert witnesses testimony was based on scientific methods that are “sufficiently established” in, and generally accepted by, the scientific community to which the expert belongs. As the Perez Court pointed out, the Daubert standard, as adopted by Florida’s legislature in 2013, requires additional analysis. Ensuring that an expert’s methods are accepted and established by the greater scientific community is one of many factors that a court must consider under Daubert, as now codified in Florida’s rules of evidence.
Florida courts must consider a number of factors to ensure expert witness testimony is scientifically reliable – most notably determined by analyzing an expert’s methodology and scientific knowledge. In addition to an expert’s approach being generally accepted, courts must also consider the level of peer review it has been subjected to, the error rate that can influence his results, and the existence of professional standards that govern the operation of an expert’s investigation. The Daubert standard requires courts to look at a variety of factors, and the Perez case noted that a simple Frye evaluation of expert witness testimony is no longer sufficient in Florida.
Understanding the Daubert Standard
Reviewing Dr. Cardella’s testimony through a Daubert lens, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal arrived at the same conclusion – his testimony was inadmissible. The pathway to the correct decision is important, however, because, as Ms. Perez’s attorneys pointed out, a Frye analysis is not sufficient to evaluate a pure opinion testimony. Using the Daubert test, which applies to any expert witness testimony, Florida courts can determine the admissibility of an expert’s analysis of facts and his opinion of the case. Under Daubert, Dr. Cardella’s testimony still fell short because he did not back his conclusions with scientifically reliable support.
Attorneys who intend to use expert witnesses must understand the proper application of the Daubert standard and be prepared to use an expert who can provide reliable, scientific knowledge to support testimony. With limited exception, the Daubert standard controls expert witness admissibility, and, as Florida’s Perez v Bell South demonstrates, Daubert is more comprehensive and thorough than the once widely-used Frye test.