Expert Testimony Related to Human Factors Partially Allowed

An expert testified on many aspects of a case involving a pedestrian struck by tractor-trailer. His opinions related to human factors were partially allowed.

Facts: This case (Raymond K. Jones v. Beelman Truck Company – United States District Court, Eastern District of Missouri – June 9th, 2015) involves a motor vehicle accident in which a pedestrian (Mr. Jones) walking alongside a highway toward his house was struck by a tractor-trailer owned by the defendant. The plaintiff suffered serious injuries and sued Beelman on two counts: negligence and failure to state a claim.

The present matter involves a Daubert motion filed by the defense in an attempt to exclude the testimony of William E. Hampton. Mr. Hampton is an expert in motor vehicle accident reconstruction, motor carrier safety, and motor carrier compliance. Mr. Hampton’s report includes 9 statements, 5 of which are prudent to human factors elements. The other 4 statements proffered by Mr. Hampton do not relate to human factors and will not be included in this summary. The defense argues that the Mr. Hampton is not an expert on human factors (He also testified in a prior case that he does not have knowledge regarding human factors) and, thus under Daubert, his testimony should be excluded.

The 5 statements in the report related to human factors are: 1) The driver was not attentive as he came upon Mr. Jones; 2) The driver’s sight distance was 350 to 500 feet ahead; 3) If he was attentive, the driver would have had enough distance to stop his vehicle while driving from 35 to 45 mph; 4) The driver had enough distance from Mr. Jones to perceive and swerve to avoid the accident; 5) If the driver was attentive, he would have been able to avoid the crash.

Discussion: The court found that Mr. Hampton is competent to opine on statements 2, 3, and 4 as they fall within his expertise as an expert on accident reconstruction and investigation. In fact, the court mentioned that sight distance, perception distance, and swerve distance does not necessitate knowledge of human factors in lieu of accident reconstruction. The cases that the defense relied upon are not on point in that the experts testified outside of their field of expertise. In the current deliberation, Mr. Hampton is indeed an expert in the field in which the accident falls.

In regard to statements 1 and 5 above on attentiveness, the court remarks that these point directly as to whether the driver was negligent when he was driving the vehicle. While allowed by the Federal Rules of Evidence 704(a), the court must be wary of statements that the jury would have been able to answer without having the expert available. In addition, Mr. Hampton was not on the scene of the accident and any information about the driver’s attentiveness is secondhand.

Held: The court held that the statements about sight distance (2, 3, and 4) above pass muster regarding Daubert and the opinions about attentiveness (1 and 9) do not. Thus, the defendant’s motion is partially granted and partially denied.