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Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael

March 23, 1999

KUMHO TIRE COMPANY, LTD., ET AL., PETITIONERS V. PATRICK CARMICHAEL, ETC., ET AL.


Court Below: 131 F.3d 1433

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Syllabus

OCTOBER TERM, 1998

KUMHO TIRE CO. v. CARMICHAEL

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

KUMHO TIRE CO., LTD., et al. v. CARMICHAEL et al.

Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Eleventh Circuit

No. 97-1709.

Argued December 7, 1998

Decided March 23, 1999

When a tire on the vehicle driven by Patrick Carmichael blew out and the vehicle overturned, one passenger died and the others were injured. The survivors and the decedent's representative, respondents here, brought this diversity suit against the tire's maker and its distributor (collectively Kumho Tire), claiming that the tire that failed was defective. They rested their case in significant part upon the depositions of a tire failure analyst, Dennis Carlson, Jr., who intended to testify that, in his expert opinion, a defect in the tire's manufacture or design caused the blow out. That opinion was based upon a visual and tactile inspection of the tire and upon the theory that in the absence of at least two of four specific, physical symptoms indicating tire abuse, the tire failure of the sort that occurred here was caused by a defect. Kumho Tire moved to exclude Carlson's testimony on the ground that his methodology failed to satisfy Federal Rule of Evidence 702, which says: "If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact ... , a witness qualified as an expert ... may testify thereto in the form of an opinion." Granting the motion (and entering summary judgment for the defendants), the District Court acknowledged that it should act as a reliability "gatekeeper" under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Breyer

Opinion of the Court

KUMHO TIRE CO. v. CARMICHAEL

526 U. S. ____ (1999)

On Writ Of Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Eleventh Circuit

In Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U. S. 579 (1993), this Court focused upon the admissibility of scientific expert testimony. It pointed out that such testimony is admissible only if it is both relevant and reliable. And it held that the Federal Rules of Evidence "assign to the trial Judge the task of ensuring that an expert's testimony both rests on a reliable foundation and is relevant to the task at hand." Id., at 597. The Court also discussed certain more specific factors, such as testing, peer review, error rates, and "acceptability" in the relevant scientific community, some or all of which might prove helpful in determining the reliability of a particular scientific "theory or technique." Id., at 593-594.

This case requires us to decide how Daubert applies to the testimony of engineers and other experts who are not scientists. We conclude that Daubert's general holding -- setting forth the trial Judge's general "gatekeeping" obligation -- applies not only to testimony based on "scientific" knowledge, but also to testimony based on "technical" and "other specialized" knowledge. See Fed. Rule Evid. 702. We also conclude that a trial court may consider one or more of the more specific factors that Daubert mentioned when doing so will help determine that testimony's reliability. But, as the Court stated in Daubert, the test of reliability is "flexible," and Daubert's list of specific factors neither necessarily nor exclusively applies to all experts or in every case. Rather, the law grants a district court the same broad latitude when it decides how to determine reliability as it enjoys in respect to its ultimate reliability determination. See General Electric Co. v. Joiner, 522 U. S. 136, 143 (1997) (courts of appeals are to apply "abuse of discretion" standard when reviewing district court's reliability determination). Applying these standards, we determine that the District Court's decision in this case -- not to admit certain expert testimony -- was within its discretion and therefore lawful.

I.

On July 6, 1993, the right rear tire of a minivan driven by Patrick Carmichael blew out. In the accident that followed, one of the passengers died, and others were severely injured. In October 1993, the Carmichaels brought this diversity suit against the tire's maker and its distributor, whom we refer to collectively as Kumho Tire, claiming that the tire was defective. The plaintiffs rested their case in significant part upon deposition testimony provided by an expert in tire failure analysis, Dennis Carlson, Jr., who intended to testify in support of their Conclusion.

Carlson's depositions relied upon certain features of tire technology that are not in dispute. A steel-belted radial tire like the Carmichaels' is made up of a "carcass" containing many layers of flexible cords, called "plies," along which (between the cords and the outer tread) are laid steel strips called "belts." Steel wire loops, called "beads," hold the cords together at the plies' bottom edges. An outer layer, called the "tread," encases the carcass, and the entire tire is bound together in rubber, through the application of heat and various chemicals. See generally, e.g., J. Dixon, Tires, Suspension and Handling 68-72 (2d ed. 1996). The bead of the tire sits upon a "bead seat," which is part of the wheel assembly. That assembly contains a "rim flange," which extends over the bead and rests against the side of the tire. See M. Mavrigian, Performance Wheels & Tires 81, 83 (1998) (illustrations).

[Graphic omitted; see printed opinion.]

A. Markovich, How To Buy and Care For Tires 4 (1994).

Carlson's testimony also accepted certain background facts about the tire in question. He assumed that before the blowout the tire had traveled far.

(The tire was made in 1988 and had been installed some time before the Carmichaels bought the used minivan in March 1993; the Carmichaels had driven the van approximately 7,000 additional miles in the two months they had owned it.) Carlson noted that the tire's tread depth, which was 11/32 of an inch when new, App. 242, had been worn down to depths that ranged from 3/32 of an inch along some parts of the tire, to nothing at all along others. Id., at 287. He conceded that the tire tread had at least two punctures which had been inadequately repaired. Id., at 258-261, 322.

Despite the tire's age and history, Carlson concluded that a defect in its manufacture or design caused the blow-out. He rested this Conclusion in part upon three premises which, for present purposes, we must assume are not in dispute: First, a tire's carcass should stay bound to the inner side of the tread for a significant period of time after its tread depth has worn away. Id., at 208-209. Second, the tread of the tire at issue had separated from its inner steel-belted carcass prior to the accident. Id., at 336. Third, this "separation" caused the blowout. Ibid.

Carlson's Conclusion that a defect caused the separation, however, rested upon certain other propositions, several of which the defendants strongly dispute. First, Carlson said that if a separation is not caused by a certain kind of tire misuse called "overdeflection" (which consists of underinflating the tire or causing it to carry too much weight, thereby generating heat that can undo the chemical tread/carcass bond), then, ordinarily, its cause is a tire defect. Id., at 193-195, 277-278. Second, he said that if a tire has been subject to sufficient overdeflection to cause a separation, it should reveal certain physical symptoms. These symptoms include (a) tread wear on the tire's shoulder that is greater than the tread wear along the tire's center, id., at 211; (b) signs of a "bead groove," where the beads have been pushed too hard against the bead seat on the inside of the tire's rim, id., at 196-197; (c) sidewalls of the tire with physical signs of deterioration, such as discoloration, id., at 212; and/or (d) marks on the tire's rim flange, id., at 219-220. Third, ...


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