Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Overturns Judgment, Excludes Electrical Engineer Expert Witness Testimony

The defendants appeal the opinion of the lower court allowing the expert witness testimony of plaintiff’s electrical engineer.  The court reversed the lower court opinion.

Facts: This case (Nease v. Ford Motor Company – United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit – February 1st, 2017) is an appeal from a products liability judgment from a West Virginia Jury.  The plaintiff’s (Nease) filed suit in district court against the defendant (Ford), alleging that an accident involving Nease was caused by a design defect in the speed control system in a 201 Ford Ranger pickup truck.  The Nease’s hired Samuel Sero (electrical engineering expert witness) to provide testimony in this case.  Sero opined that a design defect in the Ford caused the accident.  Ford moved to exclude the expert witness testimony of Sero, which was denied by the court.  A jury ruled in favor of the Nease’s and awarded them $3,012,828.35 in damages.  Ford is now appealing the decision to allow Sero’s expert witness testimony, and thus, the jury verdict.

Discussion:  Before the trial at the district court, Ford filed a motion to exclude the testimony of Sero because it was not based on reliable methodology and he had not established through testing or scientific literature that a binding of the speed control could actually occur.  Ford also argued that Sero was not qualified to offer an opinion in this case because it had to do with automotive design, not electrical engineering.  The court denied the motion, opining that Sero was qualified to offer an opinion in this case and that he used standard engineering methodology to conduct his inspection of the vehicle.  After unsuccessfully attempting to exclude Sero’s testimony after the trial, and the judgment was ruled in favor of the Nease’s, Ford appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Ford currently argues that the district court erred when it allowed Sero’s opinion that Ford’s design of the speed control assembly in the Ford Ranger was defective and that Ford could have used a different design that would have prevented the accident.  This court agreed with Ford.

First, the Nease’s argue that the court should affirm the district court opinion because that court did not need to perform a Daubert hearing in the first place.  They state this because the expert field of engineering is not novelty scientific theory.  The court disagreed and opined that this type of expert evidence does qualify for a Daubert discussion.

The court also opines that the district court did not use any of the Daubert guidelines to ascertain the reliability of Sero’s testimony.  The court also opined that Sero’s opinion, encompassing three critical components of the case was never tested.  These opinions were basically hypotheses that were never tested, he has not published, nor subjected his theories to peer review.  In addition, none of the alternative designs espoused by Sero were not subject to any testing.  The court opines that they have no choice but to overturn the opinion of the district court.

Conclusion:  The United States Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case back to the district court.