Numerous Expert Witnesses Challenged in Negligence Case Involving Airplane Crash – Part 1 of 2

This is part one of a two-part post on a lengthy and detailed opinion.

Plaintiffs sued the manufacturer of the airplane they were on when it crashed.  Both parties called numerous experts to assist in proving their case.  The court denied most of the motions, but granted some in part.

Facts: In this case (Larry Crouch, et al., v. John Jewell Aircraft, Inc – United States District Court – Western District of Kentucky – January 12th, 2016), the plaintiffs (Larry Crouch and Teddy Hudson) have filed a negligence lawsuit against the defendant (John Jewell Aircraft, Inc.) for negligence in relation to a plane crash in November 2006.  The two were the only passengers on the Piper airplane.  After declaring an emergency, Crouch attempted to land the airplane on an airstrip, but it clipped a tree and crash landed.  Crouch and Hudson survived, but are disabled and are in wheelchairs The plaintiffs maintain that Jewel made improper modifications to the engine in April 2005.  These changes caused the engine to vibrate which then caused the magneto to separate from the engine, causing loss to the engine.  In order to prove their case, they hired numerous experts, including a metallurgy expert witnesses and aviation expert witnesses, which will be discussed in part one of this post. Both parties filed Daubert challenges to the opposing parties expert witnesses.

Discussion: The first witness that is challenged is William Carden, a metallurgy expert witness, to testify on the cause of the accident by performing a materials failure analysis/engineering investigation.  Jewell maintains that Carden’s testimony should not be admitted because they are unreliable and lack a proper foundation.  He will testify that fatigue fractures were caused by vibrations in the engine, which were due to the engine overhaul done by Jewel in 2005. Carden performed detailed measurements and examinations to come to his conclusion, but Jewel states that his opinions lack foundation because he did not test his theories.  The court opined that testing of an investigative theory is not a prerequisite to admissibility under Daubert.  Daubert and Rule 702 only state that expert testimony be based on inferences from a scientific method.  The court further stated that Carden’s opinions should be admitted because they can be tested (In fact, they were tested by Jewell’s expert).  The court thus ruled that the motion to exclude the testimony of Mr. Carden is denied.

Jewell also filed a motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Bernard Coogan, an aircraft accident reconstruction expert.  Coogan was to opine on the cause of the crash.  Coogan included four main conclusions in his report, only one of which is challenged by Jewell:  That the alleged increase in vibrations caused by the improper modifications.  Jewell maintains that Coogan does not have the relevant experience in order to to provide such an opinion.  The court agreed, stating that Coogan does not have engineering or metallurgy experience.  In addition, Coogan did not claim expertise in this areas in the background section of his report.  Thus, the court ruled that Coogan may not testify on the vibrations which were allegedly caused by improper modifications.  That part of the motion by Jewel was granted.

Jewell also seeks to exclude the expert witness testimony of Mark Seader an expert aviation mechanic, who was hired to opine on the cause of the loss of power to the aircraft. Jewell does not challenge the qualification of Seader (which would have been all for naught), but does challenge his conclusions on the increase in vibrations which was caused by the improper modifications performed in June 2005.  Jewell maintains that Seader’s opinions are unreliable and not concluded with scientific analysis.  The court dealt with this motion in the same manner in which it denied the motion to exclude William Carden.  An expert is not required to perform any tests on his theories.  Seader based his conclusions on a thorough investigation of the engine post accident and stated that his theories could be tested.  Thus, Seader’s testimony will be allowed.

Held: The testimony of William Carden and Mark Seader was allowed while the testimony of Bernard Coogan was allowed in part.