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Iowa City IA 52242
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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court superseded 70 years of precedent on the use of expert testimony and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
For more information, contact Michael Green, professor of law, University
of Iowa, at (319) 335-9047.