In the first civil appellate case in Florida to address the newly adopted Daubert standard for the admissibility of expert testimony, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal held that the standard applies retrospectively and, unlike the former Frye test, prohibits “pure opinion” testimony. See Perez v. Bell South Telecommunications, Inc., 39 Fla. L. Weekly D865b, 2014 WL 1613654 (Fla. 3d DCA Apr. 23, 2014). To read the full opinion click here.
In this case, Maria Perez sued Bell South for damages stemming from the premature birth of her first son. To establish causation, Ms. Perez offered Dr. Isidro Cardella, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist, who “opined in his deposition that workplace stress, exacerbated by Bell South’s alleged refusal to accommodate Ms. Perez’s medical condition, was the causal agent of the [placental] abruption and early delivery of her son with medical consequences.” Dr. Cardella testified that there was no way of ever knowing for sure what caused Ms. Perez’s placental abruption and that his conclusions were purely his own personal opinion, not supported by any credible scientific research. The basis of Dr. Cardella’s opinion was that Ms. Perez worked during this first pregnancy, but did not work during the pregnancy leading to the birth of her second child.
The trial court struck Dr. Cardella’s opinion as inadmissible under Frye and granted Bell South’s motion for summary judgment based on Ms. Perez’s failure to proffer admissible evidence to prove causation. Ms. Perez appealed. In observing that the legislature’s purpose in adopting Daubert was “to tighten the rules for admissibility of expert testimony,” the court recognized that the Daubert test applies to all expert testimony and expressly prohibits “pure opinion” testimony. The Frye test was held not to apply to “pure opinion” testimony. Agreeing with the First District, the court also found that the new standard “indisputably applies retrospectively” because, as a rule of evidence, it is procedural in nature.
The court succinctly stated the Daubert standard as requiring expert testimony to be based on “scientific knowledge.” In order to qualify as “scientific knowledge,” the court said, “an inference or assertion must be derived by the scientific method.” The court also noted that while the Frye test (i.e., general acceptance in the scientific community) is no longer a sufficient basis to admit expert testimony, it is now “simply one factor among several.” In upholding the trial court’s ruling, the Third District stated: “Dr. Cardella had never before related a placental abruption to workplace stress and knew of no one who had. There is no scientific support for his opinion. The opinion he proffers is a classic example of the common fallacy of assuming causality from temporal sequence.”
Plaintiff did not file a motion for rehearing and the decision is now final.