Last month, the Advisory Committee on Evidence of the Judicial Conference of the United States’ Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure voted to unanimously to recommend certain amendments to Federal Rule of Evidence 702, which governs the admissibility of expert witness testimony. This vote signals imminent changes that could significantly affect federal practitioners’ requirements to demonstrate their experts’ reliability.
A proposed amendment to Federal Rule of Evidence 702, which governs the admissibility of expert testimony in federal court, could clarify the evidentiary burden on proponents of expert testimony and a court’s role regarding its admissibility. Motions under Rule 702, frequently called Daubert motions after the Supreme Court’s opinion Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals Inc., are used to limit or otherwise exclude an expert’s testimony to a jury. These motions are often critical to a case’s success, especially in fields that rely heavily on experts such as antitrust, product liability, toxic torts, and environmental litigation. An amendment to Rule 702 currently under consideration looks to clarify the proper evidentiary standard for such motions.
Federal Rule of Evidence 702, which governs the admissibility of expert testimony, was most recently amended in 2000 in response to Daubert and its progeny. In response to concerns about misapplication, the Advisory Committee on the Federal Rules of Evidence has been considering whether Rule 702 is due for an update.
Why stop at excluding expert testimony when you can exclude the expert? For years, expert witness conflicts doctrine has been developed through the federal common law. Although appellate courts have been relatively silent on the issue, trial courts regularly strike experts that have received confidential information from the opposing party. Courts generally disqualify expert witnesses when a prior relationship resulted in access to an adverse party’s confidential information, and that information could harm that party’s interests in the present case. Whether an expert has an impermissible conflict is generally determined by a two prong test: (1) did the party claiming a conflict reasonably believe they had a confidential relationship with the expert, and (2) did that party give the expert relevant confidential information. Wang Labs., Inc. v. Toshiba Corp. In addition to these two factors, some courts will also consider fundamental fairness and prejudice resulting from disqualification or the denial of disqualification. See e.g. Veazey v. Hubbard.