Court Deems Airbag Expert Witness’s Testimony as Speculative

The plaintiff claimed he suffered injuries from his vehicle’s airbag when it was deployed accidentally. He retained an airbag expert witness to opine on the airbag system.

Zach Barreto

Written by
— Updated on November 24, 2021

Court Deems Airbag Expert Witness’s Testimony as Speculative

Court: United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Weams v. FCA US L.L.C
Citation: 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31242

The defendant argued the expert was unqualified to testify on this subject.

Facts

The plaintiff filed a product liability suit against the defendant concerning the airbag of his vehicle. He alleged that he sustained injuries when the airbag on his vehicle’s driver’s side of his vehicle deployed accidentally. The airbag deployed when he approached the inside of the car and started it. The plaintiff claimed he lost consciousness when the airbag hit him. The vehicle was 14 years old and had over a hundred thousand miles on it. There was no evidence that the airbag system was not adequately maintained. The plaintiff’s feet were outside the driver’s door when he got in to start the vehicle. The car was in the park, and the vehicle was stationary at the time of the airbag deployment.

The plaintiff was not misusing the vehicle at the time of the airbag deployment. The car was not in an incident that would have caused the airbag’s deployment. The vehicle had a supplementary restraint system (SRS) malfunction indicator lamp. The light was not illuminated at the time of the incident. The parties agreed that the airbag in question should not have been used in the circumstances. The plaintiff testified that the airbag had contacted the right side of his face. Furthermore, he testified that he bled from two cuts of his chin and nose.

The Plaintiff’s Airbag Expert Witness

The plaintiff’s airbag expert witness was a mechanical engineer with a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering. He had more than 30 years of experience working in the automotive industry on vehicle design, research, and testing. Additionally, he had experience in the development related to vehicle dynamics, brake systems, and engine systems. The plaintiff retained the expert as an airbag expert witness to opine on the subject of the airbag system. The expert witness testified specifically that the SRS allowed the driver’s airbag to be deployed while the vehicle was parked.

The expert set out his opinions based on the vehicle inspection conducted by the plaintiff’s causation expert witness. The airbag expert witness testified that the opinions given in the submitted report’s conclusions section, co-authored with the causation expert, were his own. These opinions were as follows:

  1. The driver’s airbag, mounted on the steering wheel, deployed without any collision
  2. The SRS did not record any collision that would have led to the deployment of the airbag
  3. No deployment of any type has been ordered or recorded
  4. Whatever caused the airbag to be deployed in this incident, the plaintiff did not cause any action to be taken

The defendant sought to exclude the airbag expert witness’s testimony. The defendant claimed the expert was not an electrical engineer and had no expertise in airbag construction. Furthermore, the defendant argued the expert had not established the cause of the installation. Additionally, the expert witness had not provided any alternate plan. Specifically, the defendant claimed that the expert’s approach was flawed and that his testimony was inadmissible

Discussion

The defendant disputed the expert’s ultimate conclusion that airbag deployment was the result of a malfunction. The defendant also disputed the expert’s conclusion that the defendant was incompetent in failing to prevent the accidental airbag deployment. The court found these opinions were inadmissible because they relied on unreliable methodology. The expert did not provide any methodology to test the cause of the airbag deployment. The court also noted that the expert had not carried out any tests on the airbag system or the vehicle. The expert did give the concluding opinion that the vehicle was defective. However, he was unable to give any specific opinion on the alleged defect.

Ruling

The court concluded that the airbag expert witness’s testimony was speculative and thus inadmissible.

Key Takeaways for Experts

In product liability cases, it’s critical to have a strong methodology that supports your opinion on the product defect. In this case, the expert didn’t have any specific opinion on the alleged defect. However, he did opine that the vehicle was defective. It’s important to back up your opinions with a reliable methodology. This way, the opposing counsel has a harder time poking holes in it.

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