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Release: Immediate

UI legal expert: high court unlikely to address 'junk science' issue

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Legal observers who are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will use a case coming before it this week to clear up confusion over the admissibility of scientific evidence are likely to be disappointed, says University of Iowa Law Professor Michael Green.

The court is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday, Oct. 14 in the case, General Electric Co. vs. Joiner, an appeal that has implications for occupational safety guidelines and product liability lawsuits.

Green, an expert on mass torts, doubts the court will revisit its 1993 ruling in Daubert vs. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a ruling that revised guidelines for the use of expert testimony. Critics say Daubert has unfairly thwarted the ability to introduce evidence while supporters say the ruling has limited the use of "junk science" in court.

"A lot of people are expecting a big decision, but I don't think that's going to happen," Green says. "I think the court is going to stick to a very narrow ruling on the issue of appellate review and not use the case as a chance to expound on the admissibility of scientific evidence, although many, including myself, would welcome clarification of a number of aspects of Daubert."

Joiner is based on a lawsuit brought by an electrician who claims his lung cancer was caused, in part, by on-the-job exposure to chemicals in the workplace. A trial court judge refused to allow Joiner's expert witnesses to testify at trial and decided in favor of GE. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling, prompting an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Many in the legal community argue that Joiner is an opportunity for the Court to further explain the Daubert ruling. In that decision, the court superseded 70 years of precedent on the use of expert testimony and charged judges with the responsibility of being "gatekeepers" when it comes to scientific evidence.

Green is the author of the 1996 book, "Bendectin and Birth Defects: The Challenges of Mass Toxic Substances Litigation."

The book is a case study of 20 years of litigation surrounding the anti-nausea drug, Bendectin, including one lawsuit over the drug that resulted in the Daubert ruling.

For more information, contact Michael Green, professor of law, University of Iowa, at (319) 335-9047.