Forensic Engineering Expert Witness Testimony Allowed Under Daubert

Plaintiffs filed sued against the defendant related to an alleged design defect in their vehicles.  The plaintiff hired a Forensic Engineering Expert Witness to provide expert witness testimony.  The defendant filed a motion to exclude under Daubert, which was denied by the court.

Facts: This case (Victorino et al v. FCA US LLC – United States District Court – Southern District of California – June 4th, 2018) involves a class certification claim related to a design defect in vehicles equipped with manual transmission.  The plaintiffs assert that the clutches in their vehicles fail and stick to the floor.  The plaintiffs hired Forensic Engineering Expert Witness Michael Stapleford to provide expert witness testimony.  The defendant filed a motion to exclude the testimony of this expert witness on the grounds that he is is not qualified and that his testimony was not reliable nor relevant.

Discussion:  The defendant argues that Stapleford is not qualified to offer an opinion in this case as he does not possess the education, employment, or personal experience related to clutch systems.  The defendant continues by stating that Stapleford admitted that some of the areas of the case fall outside of his expertise.  The court opines that Stapleford has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, and while not certified by the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence in the area of manual transmission, he is certified by the ASE in other related areas.  In addition, he testified that he specializes in design defect, manufacturing defect, repair analysis, and damages analysis.  The court opined that his background is sufficient to have his expert testimony admitted in this case and that any challenges to his qualifications go to the weight of the evidence, and not the admissibility.

The defendant states that Stapleford did not provide a foundation for his opinions.  The plaintiffs allege that his opinions are based on the standard of automotive repair that is generally accepted in the scientific community as well as the Failure Mode and Effect Analysis, which is the generally accepted standard for component design.  The defendant states that Stapleford did not conduct any testing, which makes his opinions unreliable and lacking in foundation.  The court opines that the defendant is challenging Staplford’s conclusions and disagrees with his methodology and these challenges are not bases for exclusion and that the defendant can challenge these opinions during trial.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony under Daubert is denied.