Court: United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, Waco Division
Case Name: Haines v. Webb
Citation: 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 200885
In this vehicle collision case, a Texas court precluded the accident reconstruction expert’s testimony regarding tire failure mechanics claiming that experience using tire markings in accident reconstruction evidence does not automatically qualify the expert to offer opinions on tire forensics (specifically tire failure).
This case is a reminder that expert witnesses should carefully consider the bounds of their professional knowledge when offering expert opinions. Discussing topics outside of the scope of one’s “expertise” could be grounds for exclusion in the eyes of the court.
This lawsuit resulted from a multi-vehicle collision. The plaintiff was driving on a two-lane highway when her pickup truck veered in the opposite direction, causing her to crash into a non-party driver’s car. After this collision, the plaintiff’s vehicle spun perpendicularly into oncoming traffic and into the defendant driver’s path. The defendant applied his brakes, however, he couldn’t stop quickly enough and T-boned the driver’s side of the plaintiff’s truck. The plaintiff suffered cranial-spinal and internal abdominal injuries and accrued $111,382.39 in hospital expenses.
The case’s primary issue concerned how the plaintiff veered into oncoming traffic. The plaintiff claimed her pickup’s left frontal tire collapsed and made her lose vehicle control. At trial, the plaintiff sought to exclude the testimony of the defendant’s accident reconstruction expert witness.
The Defendant’s Accident Reconstruction Expert Witness
The accident reconstruction expert witness specialized in both accident reconstruction and classic failure analysis. He worked as a Consulting Engineer with Quest Engineering & Failure Analysis, Inc. Approximately 80% of his workload involved automobile collision reconstruction with particular emphasis on large trucking situations. The expert was licensed as a professional engineer in five states and held a bachelor’s degree in Materials Engineering. The expert had also given upwards of 30 workshops on vehicular crash reconstruction. The defendant retained the accident reconstruction expert to testify on the state of the plaintiff’s front tire.
The expert opined that he found no evidence that the plaintiff’s tire was flat previous to the original collision nor that there was a tire defect on the vehicle prior to the incident. The expert found that the off-road tire marks were not consistent with an out of control vehicle. Furthermore, he claimed that no flat tire was found at the scene of the accident. The expert concluded that the accident was caused by the plaintiff’s vehicle drifting off the road followed by an overcorrection into the path of the defendant’s vehicle.
The plaintiff didn’t question the expert’s qualifications as an accident reconstruction expert, rather, she claimed that the expert’s testimony had gone beyond the limits of his expertise. Specifically, the plaintiff questioned the expert’s conclusions that her tire had failed on impact and could not have been flat prior to the collision. The plaintiff asserted that the accident reconstruction expert was not qualified to testify on tire forensics, including the cause and/or mechanics of tire failure in this case.
At the expert’s deposition, the defendant’s counsel stated that they didn’t ask him to opine as to what caused the tire failure. In reply to the plaintiff’s Daubert motion, the defense counsel argued that the expert’s accident reconstruction experience involved the analysis of tire tracks and evidence found on the road.
The court noted that the defense did not show any evidence that would qualify the accident reconstruction expert as an expert on tire failure causation. The court considered him to be an accident reconstruction expert, however, he could not testify about the tire failure causation. The court further noted that using tire markings as accident reconstruction evidence does not automatically evoke tire forensics. Therefore, the expert’s findings on tire failure could only be based on tire marks on the ground to reference vehicle placement, not on tire loss dynamics.
The court granted the plaintiff’s motion to preclude the expert’s testimony on the mechanics of the tire failure. The court denied the plaintiff’s motion to exclude the expert’s testimony on time of tire failure based on roadway evidence and conclusions on the cause of the collision.
Key Takeaways for Experts
When serving as an expert witness, it’s critical to proffer opinions solely on the issue for which you were retained. When in doubt, lean on your hiring attorney for clarification to ensure your testimony remains on topic and admissible in court.