The Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion in Betz v. Pneumo
Abex, LLC, No. 38 WAP 2010 (Pa. May 23, 2012) gives both
asbestos defendants and parties challenging an expert opinion's
admissibility under Frye reason to celebrate. Under
Frye, "novel scientific evidence is admissible if the
methodology that underlies the evidence has general acceptance in
the relevant scientific community." Grady v. Frito-Lay,
Inc., 576 Pa. 546, 555; 839 A.2d 1038, 1043-44 (Pa. 2003). In
a 6–0 opinion reversing the Superior Court, the
Betz Court upheld the trial judge's finding that
plaintiff's expert's "singlefiber" theory of
asbestos disease causation was inadmissible and, in doing so,
expanded the scope of Frye challenges.
In Betz, the Supreme Court rejected the narrow approach
to the Frye test of Trach v. Fellin, 817 A.2d
1102 (Pa. Super. 2003), which limited Frye inquiries to
situations where the underlying science or methodology was
"novel." Citing a court's gatekeeper function and
recognizing "the influential nature of expert opinions and
their potential to mislead laypersons," the Betz
Court ascribed a broad meaning to novel scientific evidence subject
to a Frye inquiry. Slip op. at 42–44. As a
result, Frye challenges no longer are limited to
situations where the underlying science or methodology is novel;
such challenges also are warranted when the expert "has not
applied accepted scientific methodology in a conventional fashion
in reaching his or her conclusions." Id. at
43–44. An expert may not "evade a reasoned
Frye inquiry merely by making references to accepted
methods in the abstract." Id. at 52.
In addition to making Frye challenges more broadly
applicable, the Court clarified that:
De minimis exposure personal injury cases may be a
thing of the past. The Court rejected downward extrapolation of a
dose response curve such that any exposure is a substantial
contributing factor. Slip op. at 47–53; see also
id. at 34–36. Without a showing of scientific
acceptance, such a position "is fundamentally inconsistent
with both science and the governing standard for legal
causation." Id. at 50, 52; see also id. at
Use of case reports, animal studies, and regulatory standards
is "ineffectual" to prove substantial-factor causation of
an injury; at most, they can be used to prove general causation.
Id. at 48; see also id. at 32–33;
Where a dispositive motion is based on an underlying
evidentiary ruling, "the appropriate appellate standard of
review is the one pertaining to the underlying ruling."
Id. at 45. As a result, an appellate court should review a
summary judgment motion based on a Frye ruling under the
abuse of discretion standard applicable to evidentiary decisions.
If an expert's opinion strays outside of the realm of his
particular expertise, the rebuttal expert need not be an expert in
the same field. Here, an epidemiologist was an appropriate expert
for the defendants to call to evaluate the testimony of a
pathologist who discussed epidemiological subjects. Id. at
In sum, Betz provides an important correction to recent
Superior Court cases that have tipped in favor of plaintiffs'
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