On August 1, the Supreme Court of New Jersey issued a seminal ruling elucidating the state’s standard for admission of expert testimony in civil litigation. In a unanimous decision, the Court adopted the Daubert factors for assessing the reliability of expert testimony, and reaffirmed the trial court’s duty to engage in “rigorous gatekeeping” prior to admitting expert scientific evidence.
In re Accutane Litigation, No. A-25-17, 2018 N.J. LEXIS 988 (N.J. Aug. 1, 2018), the latest iteration of the decade-old Accutane litigation, involves allegations that the prescription cystic acne medication causes Crohn’s disease, a form of irritable bowel disease (IBD). Despite numerous epidemiological studies finding no association between Accutane and IBD, plaintiff’s expert gastroenterologist relied on post-marketing case reports, animal studies, and his theory of biological plausibility to opine that Accutane can cause Crohn’s disease. Id. at *34-41. Granting defendants’ motion to exclude such testimony, the trial court determined that the expert’s opinions “did not pass muster.” Id. at *23-24. Specifically, the trial court concluded “there is no epidemiological evidence to justify a reasonable inference that there is a causal link between [Accutane] and Crohn’s disease,” and “plaintiffs’ experts’ examination of the evidence was a ‘conclusion-driven’ attempt to cherry-pick evidence supportive of their opinion while dismissing other, better forms of evidence that did not support their opinion.” Id. at *59 (internal citations omitted).
The Appellate Division reversed, concluding that plaintiffs’ “experts relied on methodologies and data of the type reasonably relied upon by comparable experts” and “evaluated all of the evidence in accordance with established scientific standards and methodology . . . .” Id. at *59-60 (internal citations omitted). According to the Appellate Division, “defendants’ experts merely interpret[ed] the epidemiological studies differently, and . . . a difference of opinion between the experts did not mean that plaintiffs’ experts failed to rely upon a sound methodology.” In re Accutane Litig., 2018 N.J. LEXIS 988 at *60 (internal citations omitted). Stating that “a reviewing court owes somewhat less deference to a trial court’s determination[s] regarding expert testimony,” the Appellate Court “conclude[d] that the [trial] court mistakenly applied its discretion in excluding scientific testimony.” Id. at *61 (internal citations omitted). Read more ›