The Rule 702 Toolbox: Cherry-Picking Is a Recipe for Exclusion

Most courts (but certainly, and unfortunately, not all of them) recognize that cherry-picking is a cardinal sin under Rule 702.  Science generally requires a rigorous and conservative approach to evaluating cause-and-effect relationships.  This schema inherently clashes with litigation, an arena where parties prioritize results over neutral principles of process purity.

“Cherry-picking” involves the selective consideration of facts and data to support a desired or pre-determined result, rather than the analysis of all relevant facts and data to find a scientific truth (or determine that the truth remains elusive based on the available facts and data).  It evades the scrupulous adherence to principles of objectivity, rigor, and process validity that are the hallmark of the scientific method.  In Daubert-speak, such a methodology does not produce “scientific knowledge.”  Rather, cherry-picking represents a failure of methodology that cannot be waived off as a matter of weight rather than admissibility.

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Florida Rule Change Permits Immediate Appeals on Punitive Damages

The Florida Supreme Court has accepted a proposed rule amendment to permit interlocutory appeals of court orders on punitive damages claims. On January 6, 2022, the Florida Supreme Court approved by 6-1 an amendment to Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.130 to allow interlocutory appeals of nonfinal orders granting or denying leave to amend a complaint to assert a claim for punitive damages. Prior to this amendment, a party could only appeal such an order by petitioning for a writ of certiorari. And in that posture, the appellate court’s review was limited only to whether the trial court complied with the procedural requirements for making such a claim.

Practically, this means Florida appellate courts will be able to immediately review trial court orders regarding punitive damages claims on both procedural and substantive grounds. With this amendment, the merits of a plaintiff’s punitive damages claim can now be appealed prior to any discovery of a defendant’s financial information. The new rule takes effect April 1, 2022.

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Software Liability: Why a Michigan Federal Court Decision is Relevant to Product Manufacturers Nationwide

Numerous products in our day-to-day lives incorporate or consist of software. The legal system, however, has been hesitant (at best) to bring software within traditional product liability regimes. Courts have grappled with whether to consider software a product and have largely found that it is not. However, a recent decision in the Western District of Michigan holds that software is a product—Holbrook v. Prodomax Automation Ltd., No. 1:17-cv-219, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 178325 (W.D. Mich. Sept. 20, 2021). While Holbrook may be an outlier, it is significant. It bucks the trend, and potential defendants should be aware of it.

Background: Holbrook involved a wrongful death suit arising out of an accident on a robotic assembly line. The decedent’s estate (Plaintiff) brought a common-law negligence claim against multiple defendants, including the manufacturer who designed, built, and installed the assembly line. Plaintiff’s claim was based, among other things, on the software controlling the robots.

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Pennsylvania Rejects Corporate Registration as Basis for Personal Jurisdiction

A recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion provides out-of-state corporations more protection from litigation tourists, bringing the state’s general personal jurisdiction rules in line with U.S. Supreme Court precedent. In Mallory v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co., a unanimous court invalidated part of Pennsylvania’s corporate registration statute, holding that corporations that are not incorporated and do not have a principal place of business in Pennsylvania cannot be subject to general personal jurisdiction simply because they have registered to conduct business in the Commonwealth.

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Circuits Split on CMS Vaccine Mandate, Highlighting “Great Significance” of Issue as It Heads to Supreme Court

Three circuit court decisions issued in the past two weeks have considered the CMS vaccine mandate, bringing the issue – and similar vaccine mandate lawsuits – to the Supreme Court in the final weeks of the year. The CMS mandate generally requires that facilities certified to participate in Medicare or Medicaid ensure their staff are fully vaccinated against COVID unless the employee is exempt for medical or religious reasons. CMS issued the vaccine mandate on November 5, 2021. It went into effect immediately, with staff to be fully vaccinated by January 4, 2022.

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Northern District of Illinois Excludes Engineering Expert’s Testimony and Grants Partial Summary Judgment, Fulfilling its Responsibility as Gatekeeper

For over two decades, dating back to Daubert and the ensuing amendments to Rule 702, federal district courts have been charged to act “as gatekeepers to exclude unreliable expert testimony.” Fed. R. Evid. 702 advisory committee’s note to 2000 amendments. However, some courts have not embraced that role, letting jurors weigh questions about an expert’s qualifications or methodology as though they go to credibility rather than admissibility. Indeed, the Advisory Committee on Evidence Rules proposed an amendment to Rule 702 to address the “pervasive problem” of courts holding that issues of admissibility are questions “of weight for the jury.” See, Sardis v. Overhead Door Corp., 10 F.4th 268, 282-84 (4th Cir. 2021). (quoting Advisory Comm. on Evidence Rules, Agenda for Committee Meeting (Apr. 30, 2021)).

A recent decision out of the Northern District of Illinois, however, provides an excellent example of a court discharging its duty to preclude inadmissible expert opinions. The Plaintiff in Pessman v. Trek Bicycle Corporation, 2021 WL 5769530 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 6, 2021) was injured in a bicycle accident. Plaintiff’s engineering expert opined that the cause of the accident was a crack in the carbon fiber frame of Plaintiff’s Trek bicycle attributable to a design defect. The engineer claimed that carbon fiber frames are prone to cracking and that the crack was mistaken for simple paint chipping by a dealer who had inspected the bicycle several days before the accident, allegedly due to Trek’s failure to train the dealer properly.

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