Maritime expert witness testimony opining on causation of a dam allision was challenged by the United States of America. The court denied and allowed parts of the testimony
Facts: This case (In re Ingram Barge Co – United States District Court – Northern District of Illinois – Eastern Division – August 16th, 2016) involves a maritime accident. In April 2013, the M/V Dale Heller tried to navigate past a federal dam near the town of Marseielles, in Illinois during a situation of high water. While moving along the Illinois River Mile 247/0 the Dale Heller’s tow broke and seven barges allided with the dam or sank upriver. Subsequently, the river waters flowed into the town of Marseilles, causing damage to real and personal property. Captain Samuel Schroop (Admiralty & Maritime Expert Witness) was called to opine on the events that led up to the dam allision.
In his report, Captain Schroop opines on the experience and competency of the Dale Heller’s captain, whether the Dale Heller was seaworthy, and whether its tow characteristics and configurations were appropriate in dealing with the weather conditions. He also opines as to the judgment of the Dale Heller’s mooring and transit decisions on both days. In his report, Captain Schroop opines that the sole cause of the accident was that Lockmaster Larry Rodriguez, a employee of the Corps of Engineers, did not reduce the flow of water through the Dam in order for the Dale Heller to safety enter the Marseilles Canal. The United States Challenges some aspects of these opinions.
Discussion: The United States asks the court to strike five opinions of Captain Schroop regarding Larry Rodriguez’s responsibilities. The United States argues that these statements are unreliable and/or are legal conclusions. The court agreed that his first 4 opinions to not pass muster for Daubert.
First, it was undisputed that Lockmaster Rodriguez operated the dam gates. This opinion does not assist the trier of fact. In addition, Captain Schroop’s reference to a responsibility does not identify any specialized knowledge or training needed to make those statements and does not supply any methodology for coming to that conclusion. Thus, Captain Schroop does not have the expertise to opine on the duties of Lockmaster Rodriguez during the time of the accident.
The court will not strike the 5th opinion of Captain Schroop, which states that the sole cause of the accident was due to Lockmaster Larry Rodriguez’s failure to reduce the flow of water to the Marseilles Dam so that the vessel could safely enter the Marseilles Canal. The court states that Captain’s methodology in coming to this conclusion meets the Daubert standard. To the extent that this opinion comes to a legal conclusion, the court maintains that there is no risk of jury confusion here as this is a bench trial, not a jury trial. Thus, it will not accept this last opinion as a legal opinion.
Conclusion: The court granted the motion to exclude for four of Captain Schroob’s opinions, but denied the motion for the fifth opinion.