Last week, the European Union made a significant breakthrough towards its goal of overhauling the 40-year-old Product Liability Directive for the demands of the “digital” age and modern economy. To amend the directive, the elected European Parliament and the European Council (comprised of government representatives of the 28 member states) must agree on final language and separately pass the draft legislation through their respective bodies. After extensive legislative efforts and negotiations, the European Council (currently led by the Government of Spain) and the European Parliament issued press releases announcing that they have reached a political agreement regarding the proposed updates to the directive.
The Committee Notes to the newly implemented amendments to Federal Rule of Evidence 702 make clear that the “[j]udicial gatekeeping” of expert evidence is “essential.” Federal courts in New York have played an important role in pioneering and developing this concept. Indeed, the idea of courts as gatekeepers in the expert context finds its roots in the Eastern District of New York, with the late Chief Judge Weinstein coining the term in a 1985 opinion in In re Agent Orange Product Liability Litigation. Three decades later, the Southern District of New York offered one of the most thorough illustrations of careful judicial gatekeeping in In re Mirena IUS Levonorgestrel-Related Prod. Liab. Litig. (No. II). Now, New York can also call itself home to the first MDL-wide decision to exclude experts under Rule 702’s new formulation.
Fun fact: There are 23 holidays that can be celebrated today, December 1st. Some, like Rosa Parks Day and World AIDS Day, are solemn and serious. Others are silly and fun, like National Peppermint Bark Day and National Christmas Lights Day. And then there are those that are downright strange, like Bifocals at the Monitor Liberation Day. (No, we didn’t make that up.) But for those of us who practice in the federal courts, we can add one more celebration to this esteemed list.
Today, the long-anticipated amendments to Federal Rule of Evidence 702, governing admissibility of expert opinion evidence, finally take formal effect. The amendments were unanimously approved by the Advisory Committee over two and a half years ago. Courts have been citing the proposed amendments since shortly after they were first approved. On the surface, the amendments to the text of Rule 702 itself may appear relatively modest. Indeed, at least one court has observed that the new language “clearly echoes the existing law on the issue.” Sardis v. Overhead Door Corp., 10 F.4th 268 (4th Cir. 2021). But there is more to these new amendments than initially meets the eye. In order to understand and effectively use the amendments, parties and litigators must understand and use the history and the Committee Note explaining the amendments.