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Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael

ELR Citation: 29 ELR 20638
Nos. 97-1709, 119 S. Ct. 1167/(U.S., 03/23/1999)

The Court holds that a district court's decision not to admit a tire expert's testimony in a products liability case concerning an allegedly defective tire was within its discretion and lawful. The Court first holds that the standard of evidentiary reliability established in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 23 ELR 20979 (1993), applies to the admissibility of all expert testimony, not just scientific testimony. The language of Fed. R. Evid. 702, which establishes a district court's basic gatekeeping obligation, makes no relevant distinction between "scientific" knowledge and "technical" or "other specialized" knowledge. Rather, it makes clear that any such knowledge might become the subject of expert testimony. Moreover, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for judges to administer evidentiary rules under which a gatekeeping obligation depended on a distinction between "scientific" knowledge and "technical" or "other specialized" knowledge, as there is no clear line that divides the one from the others.

The Court next holds that a trial judge determining the admissibility of an engineering expert's testimony may consider several more specific factors that Daubert said might affect a judge's gatekeeping determination. Daubert describes the Fed. R. Evid. 702 inquiry as a flexible one and makes clear that the factors it mentions do not constitute a definitive checklist or test. The relevance and degree of usefulness of each factor will depend on the particular circumstances of the particular case at issue.

The Court then holds that whether Daubert's specific factors are reasonable measures of reliability in a particular case is a matter that the law grants the trial judge broad latitude to determine. The Court further holds that the doubts that triggered the district court's initial inquiry here were reasonable, as was the court's conclusion that the tire expert's testimony was not reliable.

In a partial dissent, Justice Stevens argues that the question of whether the trial judge abused his discretion when he excluded the tire expert's testimony should be answered by the circuit court. The only question that the Court granted certiorari to decide was whether a trial judge may consider the four factors set out in Daubert in a Fed. R. Evid. 702 analysis of the admissibility of an engineering expert's testimony. Justice Stevens believes that it is neither fair to litigants nor good practice for the Court to decide questions not raised by the certiorari petition.

Counsel for Petitioners
Warren C. Herlong Jr.
Helmsing, Sims & Leach
The Laclede Bldg.
150 Government St., Ste. 2000, Mobile AL 36652
(334) 432-5521

Counsel for Respondents
Steven A. Martino
Jackson, Taylor & Martino
South Trust Bank Bldg.
61 St. Joseph St., Mobile AL 36602
(334) 433-3131