Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137 (1999)

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KUMHO TIRE CO., LTD., et al. v. CARMICHAEL et al.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit

No. 97-1709. Argued December 7, 1998—Decided March 23, 1999

When a tire on the vehicle driven by Patrick Carmichael blew out and the vehicle overturned, one passenger died and the others were injured. The survivors and the decedent's representative, respondents here, brought this diversity suit against the tire's maker and its distributor (collectively Kumho Tire), claiming that the tire that failed was defective. They rested their case in significant part upon the depositions of a tire failure analyst, Dennis Carlson, Jr., who intended to testify that, in his expert opinion, a defect in the tire's manufacture or design caused the blowout. That opinion was based upon a visual and tactile inspection of the tire and upon the theory that in the absence of at least two of four specific, physical symptoms indicating tire abuse, the tire failure of the sort that occurred here was caused by a defect. Kumho Tire moved to exclude Carlson's testimony on the ground that his methodology failed to satisfy Federal Rule of Evidence 702, which says: "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." Granting the motion (and entering summary judgment for the defendants), the District Court acknowledged that it should act as a reliability "gatekeeper" under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U. S. 579, 589, in which this Court held that Rule 702 imposes a special obligation upon a trial judge to ensure that scientific testimony is not only relevant, but reliable. The court noted that Daubert discussed four factors—testing, peer review, error rates, and "acceptability" in the relevant scientific community—which might prove helpful in determining the reliability of a particular scientific theory or technique, id., at 593-594, and found that those factors argued against the reliability of Carlson's methodology. On the plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration, the court agreed that Daubert should be applied flexibly, that its four factors were simply illustrative, and that other factors could argue in favor of admissibility. However, the court affirmed its earlier order because it found insufficient indications of the reliability of Carlson's methodology. In reversing, the Eleventh Circuit held that the District Court had erred as a matter of law in applying Daubert. Believing that Daubert was limited to the scientific context,


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