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In re Accutane Litigation

Supreme Court of New Jersey

April 23, 2018, Argued; August 1, 2018, Decided

A-25 September Term 2017, 079958

Opinion

 [*346]  [**563]   JUSTICE LaVECCHIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

At issue in this appeal involving a civil mass tort action is the admissibility of scientific evidence under the New Jersey Rules of Evidence.

Plaintiffs claim that a causal connection exists between Accutane, a prescription drug used in the treatment of nodular acne, and Crohn's disease, a chronic gastrointestinal illness. Litigation in New Jersey over Accutane's side effects has spanned more than a decade. This action is a continuation in that series of litigated matters. Since those actions first commenced in New Jersey in 2005, a number of epidemiological studies have been published, all concluding that there is no causal relationship between Accutane and Crohn's disease. Plaintiffs' experts dispute the conclusions of those studies, calling them flawed and lacking in value. Having rejected the evidence and conclusions of those epidemiological studies, one of plaintiffs' experts, relying on other facts and forms of data, asserts the contrary view that Accutane can in fact cause Crohn's disease. [***18]  Defendants challenged the methodology used by both of plaintiffs' experts as unreliable and sought the exclusion of that expert testimony.

After a Rule 104 pretrial evidentiary hearing, the trial court excluded the testimony, holding that plaintiffs' experts' methodology was unsound because they did not interpret the relevant data and apply it to the facts of this case as would  [**564]  other experts in the field. The Appellate Division reversed, concluding that plaintiffs' experts employed a sound methodology and simply interpreted the data differently than defendants' experts.

 [*347]  Our Court was among the foremost to shift from exclusive reliance on a "general acceptance" standard1 for testing the reliability of scientific expert testimony to a methodology-based approach. See Landrigan v. Celotex Corp., 127 N.J. 404, 414, 605 A.2d 1079 (1992); Rubanick v. Witco Chem. Corp., 125 N.J. 421, 447, 593 A.2d 733 (1991). We initially took that step to allow the parties in toxic tort civil matters to present novel scientific evidence of causation if, after the trial court engages in rigorous gatekeeping when reviewing for reliability, the proponent persuades the court of the soundness of the expert's reasoning and methodology. Two years later, with its Daubert2 decision, the United States Supreme Court also abandoned the general acceptance test in [***19]  favor of a methodology-based approach that entrusted trial courts with the role of gatekeeper. Both our civil standard and the federal standard moved in the same direction and towards the same common goal. Although the two standards are similar both in practice and in overall philosophy, we have never adopted Daubert or incorporated the factors identified in Daubert for use by our courts when performing the gatekeeper role.

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234 N.J. 340 *; 191 A.3d 560 **; 2018 N.J. LEXIS 988 ***; 2018 WL 3636867

IN RE: ACCUTANE LITIGATION

Prior History: On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 451 N.J. Super. 153, 165 A.3d 832 (App. Div. 2017) [***1] .

In re Accutane Litigation, 451 N.J. Super. 153, 165 A.3d 832, 2017 N.J. Super. LEXIS 116 (App.Div., July 28, 2017)

CORE TERMS

studies, disease, epidemiological, methodology, trial court, scientific, reliability, expert testimony, plaintiffs', causation, gatekeeping, animal, factors, prodrome, causal, courts, meta-analysis, general acceptance, patients, assessing, defendants', scientific community, cases, hierarchy, scientific evidence, median, statistically significant, increased risk, unreliable, exposure

Evidence, Admissibility, Expert Witnesses, Daubert Standard, Helpfulness, Testimony, Qualifications, Civil Procedure, Appeals, Standards of Review, Abuse of Discretion, Expert Witnesses, Kelly Frye Standard, Torts, Proof, Evidence, Expert Testimony, Relevance, Exclusion of Relevant Evidence, Confusion, Prejudice & Waste of Time, Procedural Matters, Preliminary Questions, Witness Qualifications