Mass Torts & Product Liability Partner Authors Article Discussing Impact of California Supreme Court Decision on Product Liability Defenses

Daily Journal (California) | April.25.2013

This article, authored by mass torts and product liability partner Catherine Morris Krow, discusses the impact of the California Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Sargon Enterprises, Inc. vs. University of Southern California on product liability defenses. An excerpt from the article is included below.

For years, California has been considered a safe haven for weak expert testimony. The main culprit in this quagmire was Roberti v. Andy's Termite and Pest Control, 113 Cal. App. 4th 893 (2003), an outlier decision that opened the floodgates for speculative expert evidence in California a decade ago. Roberti was the bane of the defense bar for years because it (incorrectly) suggested that California trial courts should not scrutinize expert testimony in a meaningful way. Although other cases whittled away at Roberti over time, it remained a thorn in the side of any defendant who dared to challenge an expert's opinion in California.

But for products liability defense lawyers, Christmas came early last year. On Nov. 26, 2012, the state Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Sargon Enterprises, Inc. vs. University of Southern California, 55 Cal. 4th 747 (2012). That decision slammed shut the door Roberti had opened years ago and delivered an unmistakable message: expert gatekeeping is alive and well in California.

The defense bar viewed the Sargon decision as a potential game-changer for several reasons. First, it laid down a mandate: Trial courts have a duty to act as gatekeepers, and speculative expert testimony must be excluded. Thus, under Sargon, the courts' gatekeeping function cannot be considered discretionary, and legitimate expert challenges must be taken seriously.