Court: United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Southern Division
Case Name: Riggio v. Pruneda
Citation: 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 214220
A federally-licensed commercial vehicle enforcement officer is deemed qualified to testify as a transportation expert witness regarding the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR). Although his supplemental report partly contradicts his original report, the court finds this question affects the reliability of his opinions, not his qualification as an expert.
The plaintiff filed this wrongful death claim following a fatal motor vehicle accident. The deceased, who was driving a Toyota Prius, rear-ended a tractor trailer. Her injuries were so severe, she tragically passed away. Three defendants were named in the suit: the owner of the tractor trailer, the driver, and the driver’s employer, a transportation company.
The accident took place when the road was dry and the weather was clear. The tractor trailer driver allegedly either significantly slowed or halted the vehicle on the right lane of I-59. This caused a dangerous road hazard immediately before the accident. The trailer did not have sufficient safeguards to prevent vehicle-underrun. Moreover, the rear impact guard failed on impact resulting in the crash, and ultimately, the victim’s death.
The plaintiff retained a transportation expert witness, whose testimony was challenged by the defendants.
The Transportation Expert Witness
The plaintiff’s transportation expert witness was a Texas police officer with a federal commercial vehicle enforcement officer license. The expert opined on the relevant Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) and safety rules applicable to the defendants. According to the expert, the transportation company ignored the FMCSR and its own rules in hiring the vehicle driver. Furthermore, the transportation company failed to meet certain employment practices laid out in the FMCSR. The transportation expert also stated that the tractor trailer driver breached Mississippi law in several ways. First, he failed to keep his vehicle at 40 miles per hour. Second, he failed to halt at a measuring station. Third, he violated the FMCSR by refusing to check the rear impact barrier.
The defendants argued that the transportation expert did not qualify as an expert under Daubert. As such, they claimed his opinions were unreliable.
Arguments for Exclusion
The defendants challenged the transportation expert’s qualifications, claiming nothing in his background indicated he was qualified to comment on FMCSR compliance. Furthermore, they claimed the expert’s testimony revealed that he did not understand the application of those rules.
The defendants argued that the transportation expert’s supplemental report partly contradicted his original report. In his report, the transportation expert concluded that the tractor trailer had not been adequately repaired. He also indicated that the suspected small repairs had allowed the bolts to slip out of the rear impact guard. The defendants pointed out that the transportation expert explicitly retracted from his conclusions upon examining the tractor trailer’s maintenance records.
The defendants pointed out the expert’s inability to study the maintenance records before writing his original report. They contended this showed that his conclusions were not founded on adequate evidence or the result of reliable methodology. The transportation expert drew incorrect conclusions and did not review essential data.
In response to these arguments, the plaintiff pointed to the expert’s training background as a sufficient qualification to testify. The plaintiff cited several specific commercial driving courses the expert received training.
In the court’s opinion, the training listed by the plaintiff sufficiently qualified the expert to testify about FMCSR compliance in the case. The argument that the expert couldn’t grasp FMCSR implementation focused on the reliability of his opinions rather than his qualification. The court found these arguments affected the weight of the testimony and not its admissibility. It was noted that “the court should focus solely on the proposed expert’s principles and methodology, not on the conclusions that they generate,’” citing Bryant v. 3M Co.
The motion to exclude the transportation expert witness’s testimony was denied.