Child’s Traumatic Brain Injury is Blamed on Defective Car Seat Following Accident

    Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Marshall Division
    Jurisdiction: Federal
    Case Name: Hinson v. Dorel Juvenile Grp., Inc.
    Citation: 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 74993

    Facts

    The plaintiff, the next friend of the underage victim, filed a product liability suit after the victim sustained a traumatic brain injury and fell into a coma. The victim was involved in a car accident while riding in a car seat designed, manufactured, advertised, and sold by the defendant, a company specializing in juvenile products, home furnishings, and bicycles. The plaintiff retained a traumatic brain injury expert witness to support their case.

    The Traumatic Brain Injury Expert Witness

    The traumatic brain injury expert witness was a practicing neuropsychologist and was retained to opine on the causal link between the accident and the traumatic brain injury. The expert analyzed the victim’s medical records around the time of the incident and criticized the use of an adult Glasgow Coma Score (a score which describes consciousness level after a traumatic brain injury) on the victim, instead of a pediatric version. The expert also attempted to extrapolate a Pediatric Glasgow Coma Score (PGCS) for the victim given the available evidence. He provided an estimated PGCS value for the time of the accident and noted that the victim was sleeping almost all of the time, not moving or walking.

    The defendant moved to exclude the traumatic brain injury expert’s testimony. Specifically, the defendant requested the court to remove the expert’s testimony that the victim suffered a traumatic brain injury because it was unreliable and at odds with the evidence. The defendant argued that the expert’s views refuted those of medical practitioners who treated the victim. The defendant also asserted that the expert misused or misinterpreted the Pediatric Glasgow Coma Score (PGCS) and did not assign sufficient weight to the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, a study focused on a “semi-structured” consultation with caregiver—the victim’s mother in this case. Further the defendant claimed the expert did not acknowledge the deposition of the victim’s family members in shaping his opinions and dismissed previous deposition testimony by the plaintiff’s other traumatic brain injury expert witness in another case involving the same accident. Finally, the defendant argued the expert did not determine that the victim’s symptoms were caused by the crash.

    Discussion

    The court noted that the defendant’s first point affected weight, not admissibility. The court also noted that in almost any case, at least one other expert can refute an expert’s opinions, and weighing reliability and deciding who to trust is the jury’s job. The court also discussed that the defendant’s claim was based on the fact that not one treating physician diagnosed a brain injury in the victim after the accident. To this, the court deemed that the exclusion of a diagnosis did not automatically mean the lack of injury, and the plaintiff maintained that a note by a hospitalist indicated that a psychological examination was never conducted on the victim. The court explained that the diagnosis—or lack thereof—provided a valuable way to question the expert’s views during trial, but did not prove that his testimony was unreliable.

    The court also stated that the traumatic brain injury expert’s report described the methods he used, described the data and evidence he relied on, and displayed the scores in each category. His opinions were testable, disprovable, and depended on recognized principles of applicable expertise. The court commented that since the defendant had the tools to rebut the expert’s opinions at trial, they were admissible. The court further observed that while the expert did not rely on the victim’s family’s deposition testimony, he conducted interviews with the grandmother and mother. Thus, the defendant did not establish that the expert’s opinions were unreliable or inaccurate by not relying on deposition testimony. To the defendant’s argument that the expert had not corroborated on another expert’s deposition testimony, the court noted that Rule 702 does not make expert opinions inadmissible simply because they conflict with the opinions of another expert.

    Held

    The defendant’s motion to exclude the traumatic brain injury expert witness’s testimony was denied.