Federal Rule 702 states, “If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or 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.” How much experience is enough has arisen as a very controversial issue for Expert Witnesses. Do more experienced experts give more accurate opinions? Are they more competent to testify?
According to Stanley L. Brodsky, in his book titled, The Expert Expert Witness, “…studies have shown that it is not the amount of experience that is central to doing a good assessment, but rather, it is how skilled the assessor is and how well he or she chooses and uses measures of the issues at hand.” He goes on to say that if the issue of experience is brought up in a deposition, the argument can be made that many people have worked for years in a certain field yet remain marginal at their jobs. Others can work for a just a short time and be extremely proficient.
Most people remember the scene in My Cousin Vinny where the out of work hairdresser/ girlfriend, Marisa Tomei, qualifies as an Expert Witness because her grandfather, father and brothers were mechanics and she grew up in a garage doing tune-ups, engine re-builds, transmissions, brake-relining, etc. Now in theory and movies, this is all well and good and Rule 702 may be satisfied, but the courts have set more stringent limitations on Expert Witness qualifications.
Without going into an in-depth analysis, the Daubert Rule (Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993)) and it’s progeny established five criteria in determining the validity of an Expert Witness:
1. Has the Expert’s technique been tested?
2. Has it been subjected to peer review and publication?
3. What is its known or potential error rate?
4. Are standards controlling the technique in place and maintained?
5. Is it generally accepted in the relevant scientific community?
This generally relates to the scientific community, but if the testimony given by an Expert Witness does not meet these standards, the Expert may be excluded from the case. Take, for instance, an Expert who believes he is the most knowledgeable in the field of UFOs and who is called upon to testify that UFO emissions caused an increased rate of cancer in a community. Unless it is generally accepted that flying saucers exist and that they cause cancer, the Expert’s testimony may be considered “junk science” and the Expert would be disqualified from the case.
Again, it is not the number of years that qualify one as an Expert. Those new to Expert Witnessing should not be intimidated if they lack experience. However, they must satisfy the rules governing the admissibility of Expert Witness testimony and have an acute understanding of the issues on which they are to opine.