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District Court Of Appeals Of Florida Upheld The Admissibility Of Expert Testimony Pursuant To Daubert Because The Testimony Was Not Based On New Scientific Methods

In D.R. Horton, Inc. – Jacksonville v. Heron’s Landing Condo. Assoc. of Jacksonville, Inc., 2018 WL 6803698 (Fla. 1st DCA Dec. 27, 2018), the District Court of Appeals of Florida, affirmed the trial court’s decision to allow expert testimony related to construction defects, even though the testimony was admitted pursuant to the Daubert standard, rather than the Frye standard.  The Court held the expert’s opinion was admissible under both Daubert and Frye

Heron’s Landing Condominium Association (Heron’s Landing) sued D.R. Horton, Inc. (“D.R. Horton”), the developer and general contractor of Heron’s Landing, alleging various construction defects, including, but not limited to, defective stucco application.  D.R. Horton sought to preclude testimony from Heron’s Landing’s experts “on the grounds the testimony was inherently unreliable and based on improper extrapolation.”  The trial court analyzed the motion pursuant to Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993) and found the methodology used by Heron’s Landing’s experts “was scientifically reliable, had been peer-reviewed, had been developed by people in the industry, and was generally accepted in the scientific community,” and therefore allowed the testimony. 

The jury found D.R. Horton was negligent and awarded Heron’s Landing $9.6 million. D.R. Horton appealed and argued the case should be remanded because the trial court erroneously admitted the testimony of Heron’s Landing’s experts. 

The District Court of Appeals noted that in 2013 the Florida Legislature adopted the evidentiary standard set forth in Daubert.  The Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion in DeLisle v. Crane Co., 2018 WL 5075302 (Fla. Oct. 15, 2018), rejecting the Daubert standard, however, in favor of Frye.  The Florida Supreme Court ruled that “while both Daubert and Frye purport to provide a trial judge with the tools necessary to ensure that only reliable evidence is presented to the jury, Frye relies on the scientific community to determine reliability, whereas Daubert relies on the scientific savvy of trial judges to determine the significance of the methodology used.” The Florida Supreme Court concluded Frye was the appropriate standard to be applied.

The District Court of Appeals then considered whether the expert testimony was admissible pursuant to Daubert or Frye standards.  The Court noted the two standards are significantly different.  Under Frye, the courts are to allow expert testimony that is based upon generally accepted scientific standards. Under Daubert, the courts are to allow expert testimony that is based upon sufficient data and reliable principles and methods.  In considering this distinction, the District Court of Appeals found that Frye would not impact the vast majority of cases, including this case, because most experts’ opinions are not based on new or novel scientific principles and therefore the opinions are admissible. 

The District Court of Appeals noted it was important the trial court found that the experts used a scientifically reliable and peer-reviewed methodology that was the industry standard.  Given this, the Court concluded no further Frye analysis was necessary and upheld the trial court’s ruling.