Court: United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division
Case Name: Gummo v. Ward
Citation: 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 154040
In this case, the defendant moves to dismiss the plaintiff’s ATV expert’s testimony. The defendant argues it contradicts the victim’s own account of an ATV accident. In its Daubert review, however, the court determines that the expert reached their findings through admissable methodologies. This included independent review, testing, and professional insights. Despite it not being in complete accordance with the victim’s testimony, the expert’s report was still properly researched and supported with specialized knowledge. The court asserted that the defendant failed to show how the expert’s conclusions were contradictory to the available evidence.
The plaintiff filed a lawsuit after her daughter sustained injuries while driving the defendant’s ATV. The plaintiff’s daughter was riding the ATV down a hill and into a curve when it veered off-road, plunged 50 feet, and ended up in a creek bed. The defendant treated the ATV as an asset of his construction business. The defendant had also deducted ATV maintenance expenses for tax purposes. The plaintiff alleged the ATV’s brake became stuck and caused the accident. The plaintiff retained an ATV expert to support their case. In response, the defendant filed a motion to strike the expert’s testimony.
The Plaintiff’s ATV Expert Witness
The plaintiff’s ATV expert witness was a former Kentucky State Trooper with advanced reconstruction training. He had previously served as an expert witness in numerous state and federal court cases, including other ATV cases. The ATV expert intended to testify that the cord on the left-hand brake had become jammed and was challenging to pull.
The defendant argued that the expert had never directly worked in the ATV industry and that he had no formal training in servicing or restoration of ATVs. The defendant further asserted that the expert was not a specialist in building ATVs and had never taken any ATV-specific classes. In reply, the plaintiff argued the expert was well-versed in ATV design and handling. Further, he had over 30 years of experience in ATV operations. Additionally, the expert had visited the scene of the accident, inspected the ATV, and directly tested the brakes alongside a professional Honda technician who co-signed his expert report.
The court noted that it was not clear whether the defendant was attempting to strike the ATV expert’s testimony on the basis that he was allegedly not qualified by training or by experience to provide an expert opinion. It decided it would perform its gatekeeping function via a Daubert hearing.
The court also described the true point of contention as a supposed contradiction between the expert’s testimony and other evidence in the record. In this vein, the defendant argued that the victim’s testimony contradicts the expert’s report. The victim testified she had gone to apply the left rear and right front hand brakes and they had not operated at all. The victim also testified she had not had prior issues with the brakes on that ATV. The defendant asserted he also had not experienced issues with this ATV before.
According to the court, the defendant’s interpretation failed to acknowledge background evidence of the ATV brakes squeaking and getting stuck. Nevertheless, the court stated that “federal practice is that a party is not precluded from proving his case by any relevant evidence, even though that evidence may contradict the testimony of a witness previously called by him,” citing Lee v. Smith & Wesson Corp. But the court concluded that the defendants had not proven that the ATV expert’s testimony was based on inadmissible facts. The defendant had also failed to prove this testimony in any way contradicted his review of the scene and the ATV in question.
The court denied the defendant’s motion to strike the ATV expert’s testimony.
Key Takeaways for Experts
This case demonstrates the importance for experts to base their examination and report on the available evidence rather than a witness’s testimony. The court will value an expert opinion thoroughly based on professional review, analysis, and findings.