Aerial Photography Expert Witness Allowed

Plaintiff sued defendant for negligence involving an accident.  Plaintiff hired an aerial photography expert witness and defendant filed a motion to exclude the witness.  The court allowed the expert witness to testify.

Facts:  This case (Thomas Fick Et Al., v. Exxon Mobil Corporation – United States District Court – Eastern District of Louisiana – January 9th, 2017) involves an accident between the plaintiff’s (Fick) boat and a pipe to a well owned by the defendant (Exxon).   Fick sued Exxon alleging that the accident was caused by their negligence of creating an obstruction to navigation.  In order to help prove his case, Fick hired Glen Hickerson (Aerial Photography Expert Witness) to provide expert witness testimony. Exxon filed a motion to exclude the testimony of Mr. Hickerson, arguing that he does not have qualifications in the field of photogrammetry and that the methodology he used used to form his opinions are not reliable or supported by the data.

Discussion:  Exxon argued that Mr. Hickerson should not be allowed to testify about any version of a certain photograph because he is not a certified photogrammetrist.  In addition, Exxon states that his experience is limited to examining aerial photographs within other factors not related to photogrammetry  Fick retorts that Mr. Hickerson does not need to possess a license in photogrammetry to provide useful testimony in this case and is qualified to offer an expert opinion on the two-dimensional historical photograph interpretation.

The court agreed with the Fick.  Mr. Hickerson worked for the EPA in its Environmental Photographic Interpretation Center (EPIC).  His work entailed the analysis of aerial photographic interpretation and photogrammetry.   Mr. Hickerson is now the Vice President of Environmental Research, Incorporated and he has over 30 years of experience in aerial photographic interpretation and photogrammetry.  The court opined that Mr. Hickerson is qualified to testify in this case.

Exxon also argued that Mr. Hickerson did not use a stereo pair through a stereoscope to come to his conclusions, which is a standard, and that his opinions are not reliable.    In addition, Exxon argued that Mr. Hickerson did not use a stereo pair, which requires the use of multiple images.  Mr. Hickerson only used one.  Exxon thus concluded that Mr. Hickerson reached conclusions which require no scientific expertise and invites speculation.

Fick counters that Mr. Hickerson’s methodology employs a methodology relied upon by the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing and were based on an analysis of the basic elements of interpreting a photograph which is found in a manual of the same name.

The court again agreed with Mr. Fick, stating that the using stereo pairs is not the only way of examining a historical aerial photograph.  The court then ruled that Mr. Hickerson’s methodology is based on sufficient data and facts, is reliable, and will help the jury.  Last, any issues raised by Exxon go to the weight of the evidence and not its admissibility.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Mr. Glen Hickerson is denied.