Mechanical Engineering Expert Witness Testimony Allowed in Crash Lawsuit

Summary: Mechanical Engineering Expert Witness testimony not excluded in off-road crash and rollover case as the court opined that his testimony was based on a flawed methodology.

Facts:  This case (Thompson et al v. Polaris Industries Incorporated et al – United States District Court – District of Arizona – May 14th, 2019) involves a products liability claim.  The plaintiff’s claim that the defendants should be held liable for a crash and rollover that they experienced while riding in an off-road recreational vehicle.  The plaintiff’s complaint alleges a strict liability claim, negligence claims, and a punitive claim.  The defendants have hired Elizabeth H. Raphael, MD, FACEP (Mechanical Engineering Expert Witness) to provide testimony.  The plaintiffs have filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.

Discussion:  The plaintiffs argue that Dr. Raphael should be precluded from testifying because she is not qualified, her opinions are unreliable, and her opinions are admissible hearsay.

First, the plaintiff’s argue that Dr. Raphael’s medical experience and background is not applicable to the particular scientific opinions that she offers in this case.  The court notes that Dr. Raphael has opined on the biomechanical processes that caused the plaintiff’s spinal injury during the crash.  The court also notes that for more than twenty years, Dr. Raphael has been an expert in the field of biomechanics and she analyzes the biomechanical forces and effects related to collisions and other mechanism of injury.  The court opines that Dr. Raphael’s background and expertise makes her qualified to offer an opinion in this case.

The plaintiffs argue that Dr. Raphael’s opinions are based upon flawed methodology, and are therefore speculative and not reliable.  Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that Dr. Raphael’s opinions are based on the Incident Specific Orientation Inversion Test (“Spit Test”), and the Spit Test is not reliable because it was conducted in a manner that is contrary to accepted methodologies.  The plaintiff contends that this “Spit Test” is unreliable because Dr. Raphael was not physically present when the test was conducted, the test was not videotaped, the height of the surrogate used in test was an insufficient match for Mr. Thompson, and that the engineers conducting the demonstration did not follow Dr. Raphael’s instructions.  The court disagrees, and finds that these challenges go to the weight of the testimony, not its admissibility.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness report of Elizabeth H. Raphael is denied