Fatal Tractor-Trailer Accident is Blamed on Driver’s Diabetes Complications

Wendy Ketner, M.D.

Written by
— Updated on September 22, 2020

Fatal Tractor-Trailer Accident is Blamed on Driver’s Diabetes Complications

Court: United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Lewis v. D. Hays Trucking, Inc.
Citation: 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 164309

Facts

The defendant was driving a tractor-trailer when he hit the deceased’s car, which was parked on the side of the road, killing her. The defendant, who had type II diabetes, took his diabetes drug at some stage that day. Also on that day, he stopped at a truck stop in the morning where he drank a cup of coffee and a bottle of water. He testified that he couldn’t remember whether he ate anything at the time he took the drug, but he did say that he normally doesn’t eat when he’s on the road. The plaintiff, the executor of the deceased’s estate, filed a negligence suit against the defendant. To support their negligence case, the plaintiff retained a diabetes expert witness to opine on causation.

The Diabetes Expert Witness

The diabetes expert witness received a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Miami and his M.D. from the University of South Florida College of Medicine. He was certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. He was not board certified for internal medicine or adult medicine. The bulk of his current practice centered on treating children. Most of his patients with diabetes had type I diabetes rather than type II diabetes. The expert also had authored several books and had given numerous lectures during his career, but most or all of them concentrate on pediatric problems, including endocrinology issues other than diabetes.

The diabetes expert opined regarding causation of the accident. He testified that the defendant’s diabetes caused him to be tired, to have a lack of attention, and to have visual problems at the time of the incident. The expert went on to say that these problems directly led to the car accident that killed the deceased.

The defendant challenged the expert’s credentials because he specialized in pediatrics rather than adult internal medicine. The defense also pointed out that the expert mostly treated people with type I diabetes and the defendant had type II diabetes. When responding to the defendant’s Daubert appeals, the plaintiff repeated many of the facts on which their expert had relied.

Discussion

The court noted that the expert had vast experience in the area of endocrinology, including the treatment and diagnosis of diabetes. Given his specialization in pediatrics, the court could not say that adults and children are so distinct that the expert could not draw any conclusions on the present case. The court noted, that the expert’s report primarily consisted of factual findings however, the court took issue in the little or no mention of how this proved his causation claims.

The expert acknowledged that he had no evidence to indicate with any certainty that the defendant’s blood sugar was lower than average at the time of the accident. The expert also never addressed how a decrease in blood sugar would directly affect the defendant or how drastic a reduction of blood sugar would be expected for him to experience symptoms of somnolence, exhaustion, or lack of attention.

The court also noted that alternative explanations had not been adequately provided by the expert. He acknowledged that fatigue and somnolence could be caused by illnesses and complications other than diabetes but did not attempt to clarify any of those other potential causes, nor did he rule out any other possibilities. Thus, the expert was barred from testifying that the defendant’s diabetes caused the accident.

Held

The court granted in part and denied in part the defendant’s motion to exclude the diabetes expert witness’s testimony.

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