Automotive Engineering Expert Witness Testimony Denied in Rollover Case

Plaintiff filed suit against defendant related to an automobile accident.  Plaintiff hired an Automotive Engineering Expert Witness to provide testimony.  Defendant filed a motion to exclude, which was denied by the court.

Facts:  This case (ANDERSON et al v. FCA US LLC – United States District Court – Middle District of Georgia – February 21st, 2019) involves an incident when the plaintiff lost control of his 2007 Jeep Wrangler , hit a stacked rock wall, became airborne, and rolled onto the driver’s side.  In their amended complaint, the decedent’s estate assert strict liability and negligence claims based on a number of alleged defects, acts, and omissions.  The plaintiff has hired Automotive Engineering Expert Witness Neil Hannemann to provide testimony.  The defendant has filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.

Discussion:  Hannemann opines that the Jeep was defectively designed because the skid plate, which guarded the Jeep’s fuel tank, did not completely cover the fuel tank, leaving it vulnerable to puncture.  The defendant argues that if the court excludes Hannemann’s opinion, then the plaintiffs will have no evidence to support their defective design claim and would not be able to recover any damages.

The defendant alleges that Hannemann’s opinions are not reliable because his opinion has not been evaluating through testing.  The defendant further contends that his testimony is nothing more than speculation because there is no industry standard requiring complete coverage of the fuel tank and that there are  forty-one other vehicles’ tanks that do not have complete coverage.

The court opines that the defendant does not provide any legal authority to support its argument that lack of testing renders Hannemann’s opinion as unreliable.  The court notes that design experts are not usually required to test their opinions.

The court also opines that Hannemann has thirty years of experience in automobile design and safety analysis, has been involves in the design and manufacture of vehicles, has relied on the undisputed testing and analysis performed by other experts and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and has applied this testing and his experience to reach his conclusions.  The court also states that physical testing is not an absolute prerequisite to the admission of expert testimony.

In addition, the court opines that the defendant’s second argument, about the absence of government requirements or industry standards and the lack of fully covered fuel tanks on other makes and models, is not persuasive, as this argument attacks Hannemann’s credibility.  Expert witness credibility determinations are the functions of the jury, not the court.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude Neil Hannemann’s expert design theory is denied.