The Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion in Betz v. Pneumo Abex, LLC, No. 38 WAP 2010 (Pa. May 23, 2012) gives both asbestos defendants and parties challenging an expert opinion’s admissibility under Frye reason to celebrate. Under Frye, “novel scientific evidence is admissible if the methodology that underlies the evidence has general acceptance in the relevant scientific community.” Grady v. Frito-Lay, Inc., 576 Pa. 546, 555; 839 A.2d 1038, 1043-44 (Pa. 2003). In a 6–0 opinion reversing the Superior Court, the Betz Court upheld the trial judge’s finding that plaintiff’s expert’s “singlefiber” theory of asbestos disease causation was inadmissible and, in doing so, expanded the scope of Frye challenges.
In Betz, the Supreme Court rejected the narrow approach to the Frye test of Trach v. Fellin, 817 A.2d 1102 (Pa. Super. 2003), which limited Frye inquiries to situations where the underlying science or methodology was “novel.” Citing a court’s gatekeeper function and recognizing “the influential nature of expert opinions and their potential to mislead laypersons,” the Betz Court ascribed a broad meaning to novel scientific evidence subject to a Frye inquiry. Slip op. at 42–44. As a result, Frye challenges no longer are limited to situations where the underlying science or methodology is novel; such challenges also are warranted when the expert “has not applied accepted scientific methodology in a conventional fashion in reaching his or her conclusions.” Id. At 43–44. An expert may not “evade a reasoned Frye inquiry merely by making references to accepted methods in the abstract.” Id. at 52.
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Civil Procedure Updates
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