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In Freeman v. Hoffman-La Roche, Inc., the Nebraska Supreme Court deliberated on whether the district court erred in blocking expert testimony. The case has been bouncing around Nebraska courts since the 1990s.

Aimee Freeman (the plaintiff) brought a product liability claim against Hoffman-La Roche, Inc. (Roche) and Roche Laboratories after she reportedly developed ulcerative colitis from taking Accutane (isotretinoin), an anti-acne medication developed by the drugmaker. Expert opinions later determined that Freeman’s condition was more likely to be Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel condition.

However, the plaintiff would have to show there was a proximate cause between her taking isotretinoin and developing Crohn’s disease. To meet the burden of proof required by the court, the plaintiff called in a medical expert as an expert witness.

Roche filed a motion to suppress this testimony before the trial began, arguing that while there was no issue with the doctor’s qualifications, his opinions on causation were not based upon a reliable methodology. In this case, the court determined that the doctor took an inconsistent approach in criticizing studies that were averse to his causation theory. Therefore, the doctor applied his methodology in an unreliable fashion.

The court precluded the doctor from testifying after a Daubert/Schafersman hearing. After this decision, the court granted Roche’s motion for a summary judgment.

The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the district court erred in its gatekeeping responsibility by blocking the expert testimony. The gatekeeping function in this case refers to the court’s responsibility for ensuring that experts apply the same degree of intellectual rigor in the courtroom as they do in their chosen fields. According to the plaintiff, the court improperly determined the weight and credibility of the doctor’s testimony.

When providing testimony, experts must demonstrate to the court that they reached their conclusions by following accepted methodologies and procedures practiced by other experts in their field. In this case, Sachar used the “weight-of-evidence” methodology by reviewing data from animal tests, case reports and epidemiological research. However, the court was concerned with whether the doctor reliably applied this methodology.

In its determination, the Nebraska Supreme Court found that the district court did not abuse its gatekeeping responsibilities by precluding the expert testimony. The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the summary judgment.

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