Appellate Court Can Look Beyond Record To Assess Admissibility Of Novel Scientific Evidence

Tanisha Ruffin, on behalf of her infant daughter Sonya, sued Dr. Leo Boler for malpractice during Sonya’s delivery. Ruffin claimed Boler’s negligence caused Sonya to be born with an injury to her brachial plexus nerve network located at the shoulder area.

The case was tried to a jury, which ruled in favor of Boler. Ruffin asked for a new trial because Boler’s expert, a biomedical, biomechanical engineer, was allowed to testify. The trial court (a new judge) agreed that Boler’s expert should have been barred, and granted the new trial. Boler appealed.

The admission of novel scientific evidence in Illinois courts is governed by the Frye standard. (“… admissible at trial only if the methodology or scientific principle upon which the opinion is based is ‘sufficiently established to have gained general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs.’”)

The First District Illinois Appellate Court ruled it was proper to admit the expert’s testimony. The appellate court considered two federal district court opinions that decided whether this same expert’s evidence was admissible. The court stated it properly could look outside the appellate record for the purpose of determining the propriety of evidence under the Frye standard. “… [O]ur de novo review of Judge Morrissey’s [trial court judge] Frye analysis is not limited to the evidence presented at the Frye hearing. We may also consider, ‘where appropriate, sources outside the record, including legal and scientific articles, as well as court opinions from other jurisdictions.’”

The whole opinion, Ruffin v. Boler, No. 1-06-3437 (6/25/08), is available by clicking here.