Admiralty & Maritime Expert Witness Allowed in Part

Plaintiffs sued defendant, stating that they should bear the costs of two accidents that occurred when a barge struck to bridges on the Mississippi River.  The defendants hired an admiralty & maritime expert witness to assist in their case.  The plaintiffs filed a motion to exclude, which the court granted and denied in part.

Facts: This case (Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad Corporation et al v. Ingram Barge Company – United States District Court – Norther District of Iowa – November 6th, 2017) involves two accidents that occurred when barges struck appurtenant structures along the upper Mississippi River.  Each Plaintiff owns one bridge that was damaged.  The plaintiffs sued for negligence and fault and requested damages for the cost of fixing the bridges.  In order to assist in their case the defendants hired Dana A. Goward (admiralty & maritime expert witness) to provide testimony on their behalf.  The plaintiffs have filed a motion to exclude Mr. Goward from testifying.

Discussion: Goward’s testimony relates to the Coast Guard designating the Sabula Bridge (one of the bridges damaged) as an “unreasonable obstruction to navigation” and the procedures that relate to doing so.

First, the defendants argue that Goward’s opinion that, absent willful negligence or malicious intent, the owners of the bridge should be responsible for the accident, should be excluded because it is not helpful and tries to instruct the court as to the proper legal standard.  The court, in this instance, agrees with the defendants, opining that Goward’s opinion just states what his opinion should be, doesn’t point to any standards, and is not helpful to trier of fact.

In his report, Goward explains why Congress and the law defers to maritime traffic.  The defendants argue that this is not relevant and helpful, does not rely on sufficient data or facts, and is not based on reliable principles or methods.  The court agreed with the defendants and granted this part of the motion.

The next section of Goward’s report deals with the reasons why the Coast Guard  would designate a bridge as an “unreasonable obstruction”.  The defendants argue that this section of the report should be excluded because Goward is offering a legal opinion and is not a product of reliable principles because it does not cite authority and contradicts already established law.  The court agreed with the defendants by opining that that Goward will not be allowed to testify about applicable law and compliance or non-compliance with the law.  On the reliability front, the court stated that Goward’s report does not state an opinion of whether the owner had a duty to replace the bridge because it was designated as an unreasonable obstruction.  Last, it stated that his report does not contradict established law.

Discussion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Dana A. Goward is granted in part and denied in part.