The admissibility standard to which expert opinions have been held in Pennsylvania has just been clarified. In a recent decision addressing the application of Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (D.C.Cir.1923), the Pennsylvania Superior Court concluded that documented scientific authority is a fundamental requirement for the admissibility of expert causation opinion, therefore expanding the growing case law requiring more than speculative personal opinion from scientific experts. As a result of this decision, experts whose opinions have no authoritative scientific foundation or who merely rely on scientific authority without applying that authority to the case-specific facts will fail to meet Pennsylvania’s admissibility standards.
Clarification regarding the application of the Frye standard was recently provided in Snizavich v. Rohm & Haas Co., 2013 PA Super 315 (2013). In Snizavich, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania addressed the question of whether there is a minimal threshold that expert testimony must satisfy in order to demonstrate that the proffered testimony reflects the application of an expert’s knowledge and is not merely lay opinion. The Court ultimately concluded that there must be scientific authority to support the expert’s conclusions in order for the testimony to be admissible.
In Snizavich, the plaintiff sought to introduce expert testimony that her husband developed brain cancer as a result of workplace exposure to various chemicals, ultimately resulting in his death. The trial court granted the defendant’s Frye motion based upon the fact that the expert testimony failed to demonstrate reliance upon any coherent and accepted scientific or technical methodology. The trial court also found that the conclusions proffered would not in any way assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or a fact in issue. On appeal, the Superior Court affirmed the decision to preclude the expert testimony, stating that, to be admissible, it must be more than just an expert’s subjective beliefs. Opinion based solely on an expert’s own knowledge and experience is also insufficient. Instead, to be admissible, the expert must provide scientific authority that supports his or her ultimate conclusion and apply that authority to the facts at hand.
The Superior Court’s ruling in Snizovich establishes a stricter Frye standard governing the admissibility of expert testimony in Pennsylvania. No longer may an expert simply state that his or her methods are generally accepted in the relevant field. Instead, in order for expert opinions to be admissible, the expert must cite to or reference specific scientific authority and demonstrate how the application of that authority supports his or her conclusions. Failure to comply with Snizovich could ultimately result in the expert being precluded from offering testimony or opinion at trial.