Pennsylvania Superior Court Reaffirms Frye Standard for Expert Testimony

The Frye standard is used to determine the admissibility of scientific evidence.  To meet the Frye standard, the scientific evidence presented to the court must be "generally accepted" in the relevant scientific community.  In many, but not all jurisdictions, the Frye standard has been superseded by the more lenient Daubert standard.  The Daubert standard allows the judge to evaluate novel scientific evidence using a variety of factors.  Consequently, the judge can admit cutting-edge, scientific evidence more readily under the Daubert standard than under the Frye standard.  Pennsylvania remains one of only nine states to continue to adhere to the Frye standard.  

In two recent decisions, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has emphasized its adherence to the Frye standard.  In Snizavich v. Rohm and Haas Co., the Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s decision to grant the Defendant’s Frye motion for the preclusion of the Plaintiff’s expert.  Snizavich v. Rohm and Haas Co., 2013 Pa.Super. 315, No. 1383 - EDA - 2012 (Pa.Super. Dec. 6, 2010 Lazarus, Colville, J.J.)(Opinion by Lazarus).  Plaintiff’s medical expert concluded that the plaintiff’s brain cancer had been caused by exposure to toxic chemicals during time spent working at a Rohm & Haas Co. facility.  Id.  The expert could not, however, cite to any relevant scientific authority to support his conclusion.  The appellate court noted that where an expert, even a medical doctor, offers an opinion that does not rely upon generally accepted scientific authority, the opinion amounts to no more than a personal belief or a lay opinion.   Id.  

In the second case, Jacoby v. Rite Aid Corporation, the Superior Court issued a non-precedential opinion reaffirming the application of the Frye standard in a products liability context.   Jacoby v. Rite Aid Corporation, No. 1508 - EDA - 2012 (Pa.Super. Dec. 9, 2013 Lazarus, Colville, J.J.)(Opinion by Lazarus).  Plaintiff in this case claimed that the use of denture cream had caused neurological injury.  Id.  The appellate court concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it held that the Plaintiff’s experts lacked a sound foundation from which to conclude that the dental adhesive product caused the neurological injury.  Id.    

Snizavich and Jacoby reaffirm the minimum standard that testimony must meet to qualify as expert opinion.  The decisions highlight the burden on plaintiffs to proffer expert testimony with enough scientific basis to establish the requisite causal link between injury and product.  This burden will be particularly difficult for plaintiffs to meet where the scientific literature has not found a definite nexus between the product at issue and the alleged injury.  Defendants involved in toxic tort and product liability litigation can use these two opinions to argue for the preclusion of plaintiff’s experts who espouse novel theories.  Contact your Nicolson Law Group attorney for more information on how these cases will effect the landscape of your litigation.  

The information herein is provided for consumer educational purposes only.  The statements contained herein are general statements of law, as of the date stated, and there may be exceptions that are not set forth below, or changes due to later legislative developments and/or newer case law.  The Nicolson Law Group does not suggest that any provision contained herein will or must apply to any specific issue or case.  For legal information and advice for any particular matter, you are encouraged to consult advice from one of Nicolson Law Group’s licensed attorneys.