Defense Counsel Claims Accident Reconstruction Expert Witness’s Testimony Exceeds Their Expertise

The plaintiff claimed the defendant semi-tractor driver’s slow rate of acceleration on a highway caused the crash. The accident reconstruction expert witness, retained by the plaintiff, opined on the cause of the accident.

Zach Barreto

Written by
— Updated on October 27, 2021

Defense Counsel Claims Accident Reconstruction Expert Witness’s Testimony Exceeds Their Expertise

Court: United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, El Paso Division
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Duarte v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co.
Citation: 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 195102

The defendants—the driver, his employees, and the insurance company—argued the expert’s opinion exceeded his expertise. The court denied the defendants’ motion to exclude the accident reconstruction expert witness.

Facts

The case involved a pick-up truck and a semi-tractor crash. Both trailers were driving on a four-lane divided highway. During the time of the crash, the speed limit was 80 miles an hour where the incident happened. Additionally, the minimum speed limit was not set. The plaintiff and a coworker were traveling in the pick-up truck, about 70 miles an hour on the right-hand lane. They had good vision and limited traffic. After parking at a rest stop, the defendant had just re-entered the highway. He was driving his semi-tractor 40 to 50 miles an hour in front of the pick-up truck. The defendant said he was in the process of escalating the collision.

The plaintiff argued that a fair conclusion could be made that the defendant was slowing down. The plaintiff asserted this conclusion because of the defendant’s claim regarding his speed at the time of the crash. Additionally, both parties’ experts found that the defendant was driving between 40 and 53 miles per hour. The plaintiff suffered bodily injuries from the accident. Furthermore, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the driver and his employees, along with an insurance company.

The Plaintiff’s Accident Reconstruction Expert Witness

In their Daubert motion, the defendants argued the court couldn’t accept the facts submitted by the plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert. According to the defendants, the expert’s opinions extended beyond his sphere of expertise and missed a reliable basis. The defendants also tried to remove some parts of the expert’s testimony under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. They argued the expert was unqualified as an expert in the commercial trucking industry. Moreover, since his non-accident-reconstruction ipse dixit views lacked a reliable basis, they were thus inadmissible as evidence at trial.

The defendants also objected to the expert witness’s claim that the defendant driver impeded traffic at the time of the crash. Furthermore, they denied the expert’s claim that the defendant semi-tractor driver broke the alleged commercial trucking industry requirement. The alleged provision notes that flashers must be on until the driver reaches 45 mph. The defendants also refuted the expert’s claim that the defendant semi-tractor driver’s slow rate of acceleration contributed to the incident. They also objected to the expert’s opinion on the abnormally high closing rate encountered. The defendant semi-tractor driver’s four-way flashers had never been on before the crash. In addition, the defendant semi-tractor driver suffered from fatigue at the time of the incident.

Discussion

The court acknowledged that the Daubert issue did not need to be addressed. The court had determined the defendants’ summary judgment motion without relying on the accident reconstruction expert’s testimony. In the summary judgment motion, the defendants argued the defendant driver did not owe a legal duty to the plaintiff. However, they did not make any arguments as to the proximate cause or breach. When ruling on a summary judgment, the court held the defendant driver owed a legal duty to the plaintiff. The court observed this ruling without evaluating the accident reconstruction expert witness testimony. The defendants had objected to the expert’s testimony in their Daubert motion.

Ruling

The court did not need to make a decision on the Daubert issue. As such, the court denied the defendants’ motion to exclude the accident reconstruction expert witness’s testimony as moot.

Key Takeaways for Experts

Accident reconstruction experts offering opinions on car accidents should make sure their expertise aligns with the type of vehicle in question. In this case involving a semi-tractor, the defendants argued the expert witness was unqualified as an expert in the commercial trucking industry. If you have expertise or experience with the types of vehicles involved, the opposing counsel will have a harder time trying to undermine your credibility.

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