The Michigan Supreme Court recently approved a series of significant amendments to Rule 702 of the Michigan Rules of Evidence (MRE). Effective December 1, 2023 and May 1, 2024,1 the Michigan rule was updated to align the state with Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE). Michigan now stands among the first states to fully adopt this updated federal standard.

Details of Revised MRE 702

The revised MRE 702 outlines several requirements for the admissibility of expert witness testimony in court. The proponent of the expert witness must demonstrate that the expert's testimony is founded on sufficient facts or data. This entails proving that the expert has access to reliable and relevant information supporting their conclusions. The proponent must also establish that the expert's testimony is derived from reliable principles and methods, indicating widely accepted, scientifically or technically valid approaches.2

The new rule also requires that the proponent show that the expert effectively applied these principles and methods to the case's specific facts, ensuring logical, valid, and relevant analysis and reasoning. Lastly, the proponent must demonstrate that the expert's testimony will aid the trier of fact, in understanding the evidence or resolving disputed facts. These requirements collectively aim to ensure that expert testimony is based on reliable and scientifically supported foundations, enhancing its reliability and accuracy in Michigan courts.

Previously, both FRE 702 and MRE 702 focused on whether principles and methods were "reliably applied." Further, the addition of "more likely than not" aims to clarify that expert testimony must meet specific admissibility standards. Shifting from "reliably applied" to "reliable application" underscores a greater emphasis on an expert's methodology.

Implications for the Defense

The amendment to MRE 702 holds significant implications for the defense in legal proceedings. First, it places a heightened emphasis on the reliability of expert testimony. By requiring that only well-founded and scientifically supported opinions are presented in court, the amendment aims to prevent the admission of unreliable opinions. This shift towards enhanced reliability can ultimately bolster the defense's position by ensuring that the evidence presented by plaintiff's counsel is of high quality and credibility.

The amendment also encourages a more thorough scrutiny of expert methodology. The transition from assessing whether principles and methods were "reliably applied" to evaluating the "the reliable application" of these principles prompts a closer examination of how an expert arrives at their conclusions. This methodological scrutiny can uncover flaws or weaknesses in the expert's approach, providing the defense with opportunities to challenge the validity and credibility of the testimony presented by opposing experts.

Finally, Michigan's alignment with the federal standards through the adoption of the federal rule promotes consistency in evidentiary standards. This consistency is particularly beneficial for businesses operating across state lines, as it provides a clearer understanding of the admissibility requirements for expert witness testimony, thereby streamlining legal processes and reducing ambiguity in legal proceedings.

Implications for the Plaintiff Bar

This recent amendment also brings about potential challenges for plaintiff counsel. The adoption of the "more likely than not" standard increases the burden of proof on the proponent of expert testimony. The heightened standard necessitates a stronger demonstration of the expert's ability to assist the factfinder, posing a challenge for plaintiffs in meeting this elevated threshold of proof. In addition, the amendment's emphasis on reliability and methodological scrutiny could lead to increased time and cost considerations for all parties involved, but particularly for plaintiffs. Pre-trial preparations may require more extensive review, especially in complex civil litigation cases.

The stricter admissibility requirements may also potentially limit the pool of available expert witnesses for plaintiffs. Experts who fail to meet the revised standards may no longer be qualified to testify, leading to a reduction in available expert opinions to support the plaintiff's case. This limitation on expert testimony could also impact the plaintiff's ability to present certain crucial arguments and evidence in support of their claims.

Moving Forward

Michigan's adoption of the amended Rule 702 not only brings Michigan in line with the federal rules, but also marks a significant shift towards emphasizing the reliability and methodology of expert witness testimony. This change introduces potential benefits such as enhanced reliability and methodological scrutiny, which is particularly beneficial for the defense. However, it also poses challenges such as meeting higher burdens of proof and potential limitations on expert testimony. As litigation practice in Michigan adapts to this new rule, legal professionals will need to adjust and navigate the evolving terrain of expert witness admissibility effectively.


1 Stylistic changes were made effective January 1, 2024 that did not substantively modify the rule.
2 MCL 600.2955(2) still allows the application of the Davis-Frye standard for "novel" scientific evidence in tort cases.

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