Biomechanics Expert Witness Testimony Allowed in Part in Tesla Crash Litigation

Summary: Biomechanics Expert Witness testimony allowed in part even though the defendant argued that the tests relied on by the expert were single-impact and non multi-impact.

Facts:  This case (Riley v. Tesla, Inc – United States District Court – Southern District of Florida – May 11th, 2022) involves a fatal crash of a Tesla automobile.  The plaintiff, the estate of Barrett Riley, alleges that two months prior to an accident that killed Barrett Riley, they asked Tesla to install a speed limiter in the car, so that the vehicle could not go over 85 mph.  Tesla states that they did install the speed limiter, but later removed it after the car was taken into Tesla for servicing.  Tesla admits that it did not inform the Rileys that the speed limiter was disabled.  In order to prove their case, the Rileys hired Biomechanics Expert Witness Kelly B. Kennett to provide expert witness testimony in this case.  Tesla filed a motion to exclude Mr. Kennett’s testimony under Daubert.

Discussion: Mr. Kennett has opined that, absent the vehicle fire, there is no evidence that Barrett would have been fatally or seriously injured in the crash.  Tesla argues that Mr. Kennett’s testimony should be excluded because 1) his reliance on “dissimilar vehicle testing” is unreliable to opine on the injuries specific to this crash, 2) the lack of contact marks is improper to determining whether Barrett experienced an impact during the accident, and 3) his statement is an improper parroting of the medical examiner’s opinion on the cause of death.

The court opined that all of the tests that Mr. Kennett relied on in his investigation were single-impact crash tests and that no entity conducts multi-impact crash tests which resembles the accident sequence in the current case. Mr. Kennett has opines that the deflation of the frontal airbags after the initial impact does not render his opinion as unreliable. In addition, the plaintiffs argue that the single-impact crash tests used in this case are not-dissimilar and are therefore reliable. The court opines that even though the crash tests are somewhat different that the events of the actual crash, the differences are not so dissimilar as to render them unreliable.

Tesla also disputes whether Mr. Kennett’s visual inspection is the usual means of testing as to whether a passenger experienced an impact during the course of the accident.  The court agreed with Tesla on this point, stating that without more support by Mr. Kennett’s methodology, the plaintiff has not shown that a visual inspection is a reliable method to ascertain whether or not the passenger experienced an impact during the accident.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Kelly B. Kennett is granted in part and denied in part.