Lee v. Smith & Wesson Corp.: A Products Liability Case Study

Francesco G. Salpietro

Abstract


Expert opinions are a fundamental strategic component in the field of products liability litigation. The success of a party’s claim or defense often depends upon an expert’s testimony at trial, and the “battle of the experts” forces triers of fact to “‘abdicate their fact-finding obligations’ and, instead, simply adopt the opinions of the expert witnesses whose testimony they find persuasive.” The benefits of an expert’s opinion have prompted considerable manipulation in court—in an effort to avail themselves of the highly persuasive nature of a credible expert’s opinion, litigants have attempted to introduce expert testimony bearing only a tenuous connection to the case at hand. In response, the Federal Rules of Evidence and corresponding U.S. Supreme Court (“Supreme Court” or “Court”) precedent have severely curtailed these abusive litigation tactics, instead forcing trial court judges to assess a proffered expert’s opinion for both relevancy and reliability to ensure that the opinion adequately “fits” the facts of the case.

This Note critiques the progression of the admissibility of expert testimony codified by Federal Rule of Evidence 702 (“Rule 702”) and subsequently expanded upon by the Supreme Court in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and its progeny. Part I provides a brief history of the admissibility of expert testimony in federal court. Part II addresses a recent decision made by the Sixth Circuit, Lee v. Smith & Wesson Corp., which extended the admissibility under Rule 702 to include an expert’s opinion that directly contradicts the oral testimony of its own witness. Finally, Part III analyzes the 2-1 decision in Smith & Wesson Corp. and argues against the logic of the majority’s opinion, instead favoring the dissent’s interpretation of Daubert, its progeny, and Rule 702. 


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/lawreview.2016.426

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