Florida Supreme Court Rejects Daubert in Favor of Frye for Expert Testimony

October 24, 2018

On February 16, 2017, the Florida Supreme Court issued its opinion in In Re: Amendments to the Florida Evidence Code, 210 So.3d 1231 (Fla. 2017). In this decision, the Florida Supreme Court declined to adopt the Florida Legislature’s amendment to the Florida Evidence Code regarding admissibility of expert witness testimony. The Florida Legislature’s amendment would have followed the rule from Daubert v. Merell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), which is the standard used in federal courts.

The Daubert standard is a more stringent standard for admissibility of expert witness testimony, relying upon trial courts themselves to determine the standards regarding reliability of expert testimony. Under Daubert, the trial courts themselves conduct a more detailed analysis of the methods used by experts in the rendering of their expert opinion. Proponents of this standard argue that it promotes more reliable expert testimony. However, opponents argue it is more costly and promotes unfounded challenges.

The opposing standard is known as the Frye standard from Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (D.C. Cir. 1993). This less stringent standard only requires that the proffered expert testimony is based upon generally accepted principles in the scientific community. 

The Florida Supreme Court’s opinion from February 2017 did not quash the Florida Legislature’s amendment on constitutional grounds because there was no current “case or controversy” on appeal at the time permitting it to do so. On October 15, 2018, however, the Florida Supreme Court was given the opportunity to quash the amendment that accepted the Daubert standard and did so in DeLisle v. Crane Co., No. SC16-2182 (Fla. 2018).

In DeLisle, the plaintiff sued multiple defendants for asbestos exposure in cigarette smoke when he developed mesothelioma. The plaintiff presented expert witness testimony regarding the substantial cause of the plaintiff’s cancer at trial. The court admitted the expert testimony over objections by the defendants, and the jury awarded the plaintiff an $8 million verdict. On appeal, the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s decision to allow the expert testimony on the ground that the trial court failed to follow the Daubert standard in determining the admissibility of the expert testimony.

The case was then heard by the Florida Supreme Court, who reversed the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s decision. The Court held that the Florida Legislature’s amendment that codified the Daubert standard was unconstitutional on the ground that the standard for admission of expert testimony under section 90.702, Fla. Stat., is procedural and not within the purview of the legislature. Thereafter, the Florida Supreme Court reaffirmed Florida courts’ adherence to the Frye standard and conclusively rejected the Daubert standard.