In an early case, the Delaware Supreme Court stated the general rule to be that the opinions of witnesses are irrelevant and that exceptions to this rule are based on necessity.1 The Supreme Court went on to described two classes of exceptions to this general rule.
One class of testimony constituting an exception to the general rule was described by the Court as testimony “upon matters which may be supposed to be outside the knowledge of persons of common education and experience, and with respect to which they are likely to be incapable of forming a correct judgment.” The Court went on to state that “witnesses shown to be learned, skilled or experienced in such matters may, in a proper case, give their opinions.”2 This rule, subsequently codified by the Delaware Rules of Evidence, has broadened the basis for that exception from “necessity” to include testimony from all persons where specialized experience will be likely to help the jury even where the jury could be capable of forming a judgment without such expert testimony.3
The second class of testimony that the Supreme Court described as an exception to the general rule based on “practical necessity” and now codified by the rules of evidence is testimony of non-experts “which generally is termed opinion evidence…where it is not practicable to put the jury in possession of all the primary facts upon which the opinion is based.”4
Notwithstanding the dangers of expert testimony, it is generally recognized today that “the law should in some way effectively use expert knowledge wherever it will aid in settling disputes. The only question is as to how it can do so best.”4.1
1. South Atlantic S.S. Co. v. Munkacsy, 187 A. 600, 604 (Del. 1936), cert. denied, 299 U.S. 607 (1936).
2. South Atlantic S.S. Co. v. Munkacsy, 187 A. 600, 604 (Del. 1936), cert. denied, 299 U.S. 607 (1936).
3. D.R.E. 702. See also Ramada Inns v. Dow Jones & Co., C.A. No. 83C-AV-56, slip op. at 10-11, Poppiti, J. (Del. Super. Mar. 10, 1988).
4. South Atlantic S.S. Co. v. Munkacsy, 187 A. 600, 604 (Del. 1936), cert. denied, 299 U.S. 607 (1936). See also D.R.E. 401.
4.1. Minner v. Am. Mortgage & Guar. Co., 791 A.2d 826, 833 (Del. Super. 2000) (quoting Learned Hand, Historical and Practical Considerations Regarding Expert Testimony, 15 Harv. L. Rev. 40 (1901)).
© 2010 David L. Finger