David Adelstein | Florida Construction Legal Updates | February 2, 2019
Florida went back to the Frye test/standard, instead of the Daubert test utilized in federal court, to determine the admissibility of expert testimony. The Frye test is more favorable to plaintiffs because it applies when an expert renders an opinion based on new or novel scientific principles. See D.R. Horton, Inc. v. Heron’s Landing Condominium Ass’n of Jacksonville, Inc., 44 Fla.L.Weekly D109b (Fla. 1st DCA 2018) (“The supreme court has described the Frye test as one in which the results of mechanical or scientific testing are not admissible unless the testing has developed or improved to the point where the experts in the field widely share the view that the results are scientifically reliable as accurate. Stated differently, under Frye, the proponent of the evidence has the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence with the general acceptance of the underlying scientific principles and methodology. However, as stated, the Frye standard only applies when an expert attempts to render an opinion that is based upon new or novel scientific principles.”).
In D.R. Horton, Inc., a condominium association sued the developer and general contractor (same entity) for construction defects that included claims in negligence, violation of building code, and breach of statutory warranties. The developer/general contractor moved in limine / to strike the association’s experts under, at the time, a Daubert analysis, but which became a Frye analysis during the pendency of the appeal. The expert opined as to construction defects and damage and the appropriate repairs – really, no different than any construction defect dispute, from what it appeared. The trial court denied the motion and during trial the experts testified and a sizable damages judgment was entered against the developer/contractor prompting the appeal. One issue on appeal was the admissibility of the expert’s opinion. The appellate court noted that a Frye analysis is not necessary because the experts used a scientifically reliable and peer-reviewed methodology.
A smart tactic, and I mean SMART tactic, that the association’s counsel seemed to utilize was to engage a third-party engineer to testify during a hearing that the methodology used by the association’s experts was industry standard methodology and generally accepted. Thus, the opinions were not based on new or novel scientific principles and the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s denial of the contractor/developer’s motion in limine.