I’ve written about the Supreme Court’s Daubert opinion many times before, tagging it with the label “junk science.” The phrase “junk science” never actually appeared in Daubert, but rooting it out has been the animating concern behind the application of Daubert. See, e.g., Amorgianos v. National RR Passenger Corp., 303 F. 3d 256, 267 (2nd Cir., 2002)(“The flexible Daubert inquiry gives the district court the discretion needed to ensure that the courtroom door remains closed to junk science while admitting reliable expert testimony that will assist the trier of fact.”)
In federal courts today, Daubert has become a magical incantation for defense lawyers in product liability lawsuits. Drug companies gleefully get drugs approved by the FDA with the thinnest of scientific evidence—often relying on “surrogate markers” or underpowered clinical trials—and then claim that plaintiffs injured by their drugs cannot present their case to a jury until they have produced vastly more scientific evidence than the company or the FDA would use. Car manufacturers regularly demand plaintiffs conduct testing that the companies themselves never did.
Today we’re going to review the state of the art, as it were, of Daubert in product liability cases by examining the four most recent published Court of Appeals opinions. Those opinions are:
- Adams v. Toyota Motor Corp., No. 15-2507, 2017 WL 2485204 (8th Cir. June 9, 2017)
- In re Zoloft (Sertraline Hydrochloride) Prod. Liab. Litig., 16-2247, 2017 WL 2385279 (3d Cir. June 2, 2017)
- Wendell v. GlaxoSmithKline LLC, No. 14-16321, 2017 WL 2381122 (9th Cir. June 2, 2017)
- Nease v. Ford Motor Co., 848 F.3d 219 (4th Cir. 2017)
Plaintiffs lost Zoloft and Nease, and won Adams and Wendell. But it would be foolish to look at these cases simply as a scorecard: the real issue here for future cases is how the courts decided the cases.
All of these cases have one thing in common: the defendants framed Daubert as a matter of pseudoscientific absolutes, and the Courts of Appeals rejected the defendants at every turn. In the cases that follow, defendants argued that any difference between a test and an accident renders the test unreliable, that plaintiffs cannot go to a jury without statistically significant evidence, that opinions developed in litigation are inherently unreliable, that a doctor’s differential diagnosis is an unacceptable scientific methodology, that plaintiffs’ experts must completely eliminate all potential alternative causes, and that case studies are scientifically irrelevant—and the appellate courts rejected each and every one of those arguments.