Kumho Tire Company, Ltd. v. Carmichael

PETITIONER: Kumho Tire Company, Ltd.
RESPONDENT: Carmichael
LOCATION: North Carolina General Assembly

DOCKET NO.: 97-1709
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 526 US 137 (1999)
ARGUED: Dec 07, 1998
DECIDED: Mar 23, 1999

ADVOCATES:
Joseph H. Babington - Argued the cause for the petitioners
Jeffrey P. Minear - Argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court, supporting the petitioners
Sidney W. Jackson - Argued the cause for the respondents

Facts of the case

In 1993, the right rear tire of a minivan driven by Patrick Carmichael blew out and the vehicle overturned. One passenger died in the accident and several others were severely injured. Subsequently, the Carmichaels brought a diversity suit against the Kumho Tire Company and others, claiming that the tire was defective. A significant part of the Carmichaels' case turned on the testimony of Dennis Carlson, Jr., an expert in tire failure analysis. Carlson intended to testify to support the Carmichaels' conclusion that a defect in the tire's manufacture or design caused the blow out. To support this conclusion, Carlson used a methodology that was partly disputed. Kumho moved to exclude Carlson's testimony on the ground that his methodology failed to satisfy Federal Rule of Evidence 702, which provides: "If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact..., a witness qualified as an expert...may testify thereto in the form of an opinion." The Federal District Court granted the motion, excluded Carlson's testimony, and entered summary judgment for Kumho. The court found that Carlson's methodology was insufficiently reliable. In reversing, the Court of Appeals concluded that a federal trial judge's "gatekeeping" obligations under the Federal Rules of Evidence were limited to scientific context, and not Carlson's testimony, which the court characterized as skill-or experience-based.

Question

Does a federal trial judge's "gatekeeping" obligation, under the Federal Rules of Evidence, apply to testimony based on skill or experience as it does to testimony based on scientific knowledge?

Media for Kumho Tire Company, Ltd. v. Carmichael

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 07, 1998 in Kumho Tire Company, Ltd. v. Carmichael

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 23, 1999 in Kumho Tire Company, Ltd. v. Carmichael

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinions of the court in two cases will be announced by Justice Breyer.

Stephen G. Breyer:

The first case is Kumho Tire Co. v. Patrick Carmichael.

It follows from the case we decided six years ago called Daubert v. Merrell Dow, and in that case the Court held that District Courts should not admit expert scientific testimony unless the District Judge thought it was reliable.

The Court there also said when the judge carries out that gatekeeping function, it may ask certain specific questions concerning theories, testability, peer review, error rate, and acceptance within a relevant scientific community.

Those questions could help determine whether scientific testimony is reliable.

In this case we again consider the admissibility of expert testimony, only this time the case involves not scientific testimony, but expert engineering testimonies.

The case arises out of an automobile accident that took place in 1993.

The plaintiffs were driving in a minivan, the van’s right rear tire blew out and the plaintiffs thought it was a defective tire and they brought a tort suit against the manufacturer and its distributor.

To help prove the case the plaintiffs wanted to introduce the testimony of a tire failure expert, and he was going to testify that the tire was defective.

He reached that conclusion based upon his own visual and tactile examination of the tire, and also upon a theory that if the tire was not defective he could tell by the presence of certain rather specific physical marks.

The District Court excluded that testimony.

The judge asked the questions that I mentioned before, the specific questions from Daubert and he said he thought the answers to those questions showed the expert’s testimony was not reliable.

But the Court of Appeals reversed, because the question was asked not of a scientific expert but of a different kind of expert, and in the Court of Appeals’ view the Daubert questions and Daubert didn’t apply.

We disagree with the Court of Appeals.

We hold first, that the basic gatekeeping obligation that Daubert discussed which is tied back to the Federal Rules of Evidence, Rule 702, obligation to assure that testimony is not only relevant but reliable.

We hold that that obligation, that gatekeeping function, applies not just to scientific testimony but to all expert testimony.

Second, in carrying out that Rule we say that the Court may consider the four more specific questions that Daubert mentions about testability, acceptance, etcetera.

The Eleventh Circuit had held that a trial judge may ask questions of this sort only where an expert relies on the application of scientific principles, but not where the expert relies on skill or experience based observation.

But we disagree with that.

We think sometimes these questions or factors could be relevant to that kind of testimony, and in our view the Rule of Evidence doesn’t match certain kinds of questions to certain kinds of experts.

Life and the legal cases that it generates is simply too complex to warrant a definitive match.

At the same time we emphasize in respect to those specific questions the word ‘may’, that is to say the judge ‘may’ use those questions.

Their use will not always be appropriate.

The trial judge must have considerable leeway in determining how to go about determining whether the particular expert testimony is reliable, and the judge should consider the specific factors where there are reasonable measures of reliability.

Third, the trial judge must have the same kind of legal attitude in deciding how to test an expert’s reliability, what kind of procedures to have, as the trial judge enjoys when he decides or he/she decides whether that expert’s relevant testimony is reliable.

On review for that decision an abusive discretion standard will apply.

Then finally, our opinion to show an example of the principles I just discussed, it reviews in detail the specific decision at issue here, namely the decision about this tire failure expert.

I think I will spare you with details in this oral statement of tire failure analysis, so the briefs run into that matter rather thoroughly, and thus we learned quite a lot about that.

It is a very interesting subject, and lot of rich detail there.

After examining the record we conclude that the Trial Court’s decision to apply the specific Daubert factor here and to exclude the testimony, those decisions were reasonable ones and therefore lawful ones.