Sunday, October 07, 2007

Hold Daubert Hearings, Says Mississippi High Court

Last week, a sharply divided Mississippi Supreme Court signaled that trial courts risk reversal if they exclude expert testimony without holding a Daubert hearing. See Smith v. Clement, No. 2006-CA-00018-SCT (Miss. Oct. 4, 2007). The testimony in question was offered on summary judgment, in an affidavit from the plaintiffs' mechanical engineer, to prove that a school bus fire was caused by defects in the bus's propane fuel system. The trial court struck the testimony and awarded summary judgment to the defendant. Although the trial court did hear argument on the summary judgment motion, it held no hearing specifically devoted to the evidentiary issue. As a result, the plaintiffs were denied sufficient opportunity to defend and develop the expert's opinion, a five-justice majority held. From the opinion:
Prior to any Daubert determination or other decision regarding the proffer of expert evidence, the parties must be afforded the opportunity to be heard. We generally recommend that the trial court conduct an in limine hearing specifically on the subject, as this procedure will result in full briefing and argument by the parties regarding the proposed expert testimony. This will not only assist the trial court in its function as evidentiary gatekeeper; it will provide a fuller record for an appellate court should the parties contest the evidentiary ruling. While an in limine hearing may not be necessary in all cases, it does provide the most efficient manner of addressing the issue in many cases.
Four justices dissented, noting that the plaintiffs had an opportunity to address the evidentiary points at oral argument on the summary judgment motion.

In suggesting that it exalts form over substance to require a separate, dedicated Daubert hearing, the dissenters might seem to have a point. The justices' deeper disagreement may have been over the degree to which Daubert should come into play on summary judgment at all. The majority approvingly cited Cortes-Irizarry v. Corporacion Insular De Seguros, 111 F.3d 184 (1st Cir. 1997), for the proposition that Daubert's gatekeeping regime should be employed only with "great care and circumspection" at the summary judgment stage.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Mississippi Supreme Court Unimpressed with Social Worker's Reliance on "Instinct"

The Supreme Court of Mississippi has faulted the trial court for giving even slight weight to testimony from a social worker in a custody dispute, when the testimony should have been excluded altogether. Asked to describe the basis of her custody recommendation, the social worker testified as follows:
A. What [the child] told me and how she behaved in therapy.

Q. Is there any recognized textbooks or science with regard to how you would reach your conclusion or recommendation?

A. There is no exact science in psychology. There's a lot of experimental science, but as far as reaching conclusions, a lot of it you go to training, instinct, and -- mostly training.
"There is no evidence," the high court said in its opinion, "that [the social worker's] opinion was either 'based upon sufficient facts or data' or 'the product of reliable principles and methods.'" See Giannaris v. Giannaris, No. 2005-CT-00498-SCT (Miss. July 19, 2007).


Saturday, April 28, 2007

Mississippi Supreme Court Upholds Exclusion of Neurosurgeon's Testimony on Standard of Care for Internal Medicine

A trial court did not abuse its discretion in holding that a neurosurgeon was not qualified to opine on the standard of care for a practitioner of internal medicine, Mississippi's highest court has held. The ruling does not rest on the mere difference in specialties, but rather on the neurosurgeon's more general lack of experience and knowledge in the relevant practice area. See Hubbard v. Wansley, No. 2005-CA-01055-SCT (Miss. Apr. 26, 2007).


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Mississippi High Court Upholds Fire Inspector's Testimony

The Mississippi Supreme Court has upheld the admissibility of a fire inspector's testimony, in a criminal case where the defendant was convicted of pouring rubbing alcohol on his girlfriend and setting her ablaze. We are unsurprised. See Taylor v. State, 2004-KA-02384-SCT (Miss. Mar. 22, 2007).


Fed. R. Evid. 702: If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.