Timing of Disposition of Daubert Motions in Federal District Courts

Timing of Disposition of Daubert Motions in Federal District Courts: An Empirical Examination

Full Report

  • James C. Cooper, Principal Investigator, Phd
    Research Fellow, Director, Research and Policy, Law & Economics Center
  • Matthew D. Sibery, Research Coordinator

In 1993, the Supreme Court established a new standard for the admissibility of expert evidence with its decision in Daubert v. Merrell Dow PharmaceuticalsDaubert, along with Gen. Electro Co. v. Joiner and Kumho Tires Co. v. Carmichael, provided an interpretation of Federal Rule of Evidence 702 that replaced the “general acceptance” standard under Frye v. United States, with one that focuses on methodological rigor.

Given the widespread use of expert testimony in civil litigation, the judicial handling of Daubert motions is likely to have important implications for litigation. For example, to the extent that parties rely on the outcome of Daubert motions for important information about their relative likelihood of prevailing in litigation, delay in ruling on Daubert motions may unnecessarily prolong litigation. Although several studies have examined the impact of Daubert on expert testimony, there is no evidence on what factors influence the time it takes courts to rule on Daubert motions, or how the timing and outcome of Daubert motions may influence litigation outcomes and the likelihood of settlement.

To fill this gap, this Report examines a sample of 2,127 Daubert motions made in 1,017 private cases from 91 federal district courts. The sample spans from 2003-2014, and involves 57 different causes of action. This large and diverse sample allows a comprehensive overview Daubert practice in federal courts. It also allows for the testing of the hypothesis that by providing parties more information about the likely success of a plaintiff’s case, Daubert rulings can spur early termination of litigation. Litigation theory predicts that divergent expectations about the likely outcome of a case can prevent settlement. Because Daubert rulings reveal information about the likely success of a plaintiff’s case, they can serve as inflection points for settlement. Further, Daubert rulings that eliminate or greatly retard a plaintiff’s ability to mount a case—for example, by striking the testimony of a medical expert in a medical malpractice case—may lead to summary adjudication. Accordingly, if courts are not timely in their Daubert rulings, they may needlessly prolong litigation.