Marine Engineering Expert Witness Testimony Partially Allowed in Vessel Litigation

Summary: Marine Engineering Expert Witness testimony allowed in part as the court opined that the expert is qualified to offer opinions in case.

Facts:  This case (Dukes v. Zafiro Marine – United States District Court – Eastern District of Louisiana – December 14th, 2018) involves personal injuries allegedly sustained by the plaintiff.  The plaintiff alleges that he sustained the injuries when he rolled his ankle while climbing down a three-rung ladder from his upper bunk located in the living quarters of a vessel.  The plaintiff sued the defendants stating that the defendant’s negligence and the unseaworthiness of the vessel caused his injuries.  The plaintiff hired Marine Engineering Expert Witness Steve Nolte to provide testimony.  The defendant has filed a motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Nolte.

Discussion:  The defendant does not challenge Nolte’s qualifications, but argues that his opinions will not assist the trier of fact because the accident involves issues that are within the general understanding of a layperson.  In addition, the defendant also argues that Nolte offers legal conclusions which are not permitted under Daubert.

The court opines that Nolte is qualified to offer an opinion in this case.  The court continues by stating that based on his education and experience, Nolte has technical expertise in numerous areas, such as vessel classification, surveying, and design.

Nolte, in his report, mentions sections of the International Safety Management Code (“ISM”), International Labor Organization (“ILO”) regulations, and American Society for Testing Materials (“ASTM”) Requirements for Marine Berths.  He opines that the defendant did not comply with those rules, regulations, and requirements.  The court opines that these industry standards are not within the common knowledge of the jurors and therefore constitute expert testimony that is admissible.  Any argument related to the applicability of these standards to the accident should be explored through cross-examination.

The court also notes that Nolte’s report offers several opinions that constitute legal opinions or factual determinations that should be reserved for the jury.  These opinions are not admissible and these statements will be excluded.

In addition, Nolte’s opines that the bunk bed was not safe because it lacked lee rails.  The court notes that whether the bunk bed had proper lee rails is not relevant to the facts of this case and are therefore excluded.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Steve Nolte is denied in part and granted in part.