Accident Reconstruction Expert Witness Partially Allowed

Plaintiff and Defendant were involved in a motor vehicle accident.  Defendants expert was challenged and the court granted and denied the motion to exclude.

Facts:  This case (Johnson v. Trans-Carriers, Inc – United States District Court – Western District of Tennessee – Western Division – September 7th, 2016) involves a negligence claim emerging from a motor vehicle accident.  In order to assist in their case, the defendants hired Donald R. Phillips an accident reconstruction expert witness.

The plaintiffs have filed a motion to exclude three opinions provided by Phillips, specifically, 1) that Mr. Johnson may have been over the center line of Riverport Road based on pre-impact steering data, the roadway conditions, and eyewitness observations, 2) that defendant Newsome swerved to the left in order to avoid Johnson’s Van, and 3) that Johnson’s truck would have stopped had he been been driving at the posted speed limit.

The defendants argue as follows.  Regarding Johnson’s vehicle crossing the center line, they state that Phillips extrapolated crash data, analyzed post-crash positioning, site visits, and eye witness accounts.  In addition, they argue that Phillips did not offer any definitive opinion on Johnson’s vehicle crossing the center line or Newsome’s tractor-trailer serving to avoid Johnson’s vehicle.  He only stated that these possibilities could be ruled out.  They also argue that any other objections to Phillip’s testimony go to the weight of the evidence, not it’s admissibility.

Discussion:  The court addressed each part of plaintiffs motion separately.  Regarding whether Johnson’s vehicle crossed the center line, the court opined that the plaintiff’s argument that Phillips relied on his observations more than a year after the accident is well founded.  However, Phillips does not cite to evidence to support his assumption that damage to the road in April 2016 was the same as damage to the road in March 2015.  Thus, Phillips opinion is speculative and does not have any probative value.

Regarding the steering wheel data and Phillips’s extrapolation from that data, the court opined that Phillips has assumed a fact, however, he reached his assumption based on another fact in the record.  This assumption of a fact is an acceptable approach to opinion testimony.   Thus, Phillips’s opinion regarding Johnson’s truck crossing the center line is not speculative and the motion to exclude was denied on this issue.  In addition, Phillip’s opinion about defendant Newsome swerving his tractor trailer to the left will also be allowed, based on the same reasoning.

The last argument relates to Phillip’s opinion about Johnson’s rate of speed before the crash.  The plaintiff’s state that Phillips simply opined that collisions at faster speeds create a greater risk of injury than those at slower speeds and that such an argument does not assist the trier of fact.  The court opined that Phillips’s conclusion is supported by the evidence and would assist the trier of fact.  However, the court finds that Phillip’s full opinion on the effects of Johnson’s speed has issues.  Phillip’s did not provide any information or evidence about the other vehicle involved in the crash, specifically, its speed.  This part of Phillip’s opinion is speculative and will not be allowed.

Conclusion:  The plaintiffs’ motion to exclude the testimony of Donald R. Phillips is granted in part and denied in part.