One of the differences between normal personal injury cases and mass torts is the number of plaintiffs involved. However, mass tort cases also are based on something more than ordinary negligence. They usually involve matters that require scientific evidence in order to prove liability.
The best way for mass tort lawyers to prove their cases is by using expert witnesses. These witnesses can testify to the scientific proof needed to get the plaintiff’s damages. However, you can’t just put an expert witness on the stand an expect the jury to believe them. The legal system requires that we prove that our expert witnesses are qualified to testify as an expert. Otherwise, they can confuse the issues and confuse the jury.
The way that judges qualify expert witnesses (and the evidence they rely on) is to apply something called the Daubert standard. This is a test that helps determine whether an expert’s evidence is both reliable and relevant to the case.
While it may seem like the Daubert standard is a great way to qualify your witness, it can also be a challenge for mass tort attorneys.
The Daubert Standard Measures Both Reliability and Relevance
The Daubert standard measures both an expert’s reliability and the relevance of the evidence they rely on. If an expert doesn’t pass both tests, they won’t be allowed to testify. In order to make sure an expert is qualified, the judge will conduct a Daubert hearing out of earshot of the jury.
The Daubert hearing is held after discovery is complete but before trial. This way, both sides are already familiar with the evidence. However, it’s done early enough that there’s no way the evidence can be introduced to a jury without the judge knowing it’s both reliable and relevant.
In order to measure an expert’s reliability, the court is going to look at a few things, including:
- What do peer-reviewed journal articles have to say about the evidence relied on by the expert?
- Are there any published studies that support the opinion of the expert witness?
- What do official opinions written by other experts in the field say about the witness’ evidence?
After reviewing all of these factors, the judge will decide whether an expert is reliable or not. The judge is the gatekeeper for the jury. It’s their job to make sure no evidence is submitted to the jury that could mislead or confuse them. The judge also needs to make sure that the expert is credible so that any testimony given by them is safe for the jury to hear.
The judge is also going to determine if the information the expert intends to discuss is relevant. Basically, the judge wants to make sure the expert’s evidence is Germaine to the case at hand and not extraneous or confusing.
An example of this is when an expert wants to testify about whether a vehicle is likely to explode when a certain part of the car is impacted. Let’s say the case is about a car that catches on fire when something impacts the gas tank. Your expert wants to submit a study that tests whether or not a car catches fire when in a head-on collision. The judge may rule that this isn’t relevant because the study didn’t look at whether or not a gas tank could cause an explosion.
Pros and Cons of Daubert
There are pros and cons to using the Daubert standard for expert testimony. In this way, it both helps and hurts mass tort attorneys.
One way the standard is beneficial is that, once a witness is deemed qualified, he gains credibility with the jury. If a jury learns that the judge has screened the expert and finds them reliable, it will make them more likely to believe what they have to say.
On the other hand, some judges aren’t really qualified to make scientific judgments. They may exclude some experts who are actually credible and reliable. Additionally, some defense lawyers use Daubert hearing to delay court proceedings. This could be to drag out settlement negotiations. Or, it could just be a tactic to make the trial more expensive for the plaintiffs. Either way, it can be a detriment to mass tort attorneys.
Overall, the Daubert standard works for and against mass tort lawyers. Ideally, defense lawyers will be held to the same standard as plaintiffs’ counsel. In this way, the Daubert standard can be seen as an effective way of weeding out unreliable testimony.
If you believe you may be involved in a mass tort case, contact an experienced mass tort attorney at Dalimonte Rueb Stoller today.