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

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: The facts in this case can be accessed in part 1 of this blog post.  Part 2 continues with the additional challenges to the numerous expert witnesses called in this case.

Discussion: The defendant (Jewell) moves to exclude the expert witness testimony of Richard Wartman (mechanical engineering expert witness) on the grounds that 1) his opinions on the engine overhaul lack a reliable scientific basis and 2) that he is not qualified to testify on the standard of care applicable to power plant and airframe mechanics.  The court disagreed and denied this motion by the defendant as Wartman’s testimony has a reliable engineering foundation and that he is qualified to provide a standard of care expert opinion related to civil engine overhauls.

Jewell also seeks to exclude the testimony of Dr. Ralph Crystal, who is a vocational evaluation & rehabilitation expert witnesses.  The plaintiffs hired Crystal to evaluate their vocational history and their abilities to go back to the labor market after their injuries.  Jewell argues, on five grounds.  First, they object to the way in which Crystal formulated the “lost wages calculation”.  They state that this is unreliable because Crystal used the adjusted gross income listed on on IRS form 1040 instead of W-2s.  The court opined that this argument fails because it goes to the weight of the testimony and not its admissibility.  Second, Jewell states that Crystal’s opinions are based on stale data and are thus unreliable.  They state that Crystal prepared his report in 2009 and should have been updated with data through 2013.  The court opined again that this argument goes to the weight of the testimony, not its admissibility.  Third, Jewell states that Crystal’s opinions are not reliable as he is not able to describe the scientific process for his vocational potential assessment.  The court denied this part of the motion by stating that Crystal used reliable methods to determine Plaintiff’s vocational abilities and used this information to come to his conclusions.  The court also stated that  Daubert and Rule 702 do not require a precise scientific formula for every opinion stated.  Fourth, Jewell states that Crystal’s opinions should be excluded because they are not based on facts that experts should be relying on.  In addition, Crystal, they state, did not perform any independent analysis of the Plaintiff’s conditions.  The court again disagreed, stating that Crystal did in fact perform independent study and analysis and did not just rely on information provided by others.  Last, Jewell states that Crystal’s opinion on Mrs. Crouch’s lost income should not be admitted because the calculations do not require specialized knowledge and the jury can figure out the calculations on their own.  The court disagreed with this argument as well, stating that Crystal’s expert opinion will help the jury in forming a conclusion.  Thus, all of Jewell’s motions to exclude the testimony of Crystal was denied.

The Plaintiff’s have filed a motion to exclude the defendant’s expert witness testimony of Doug Stimpson (accident reconstruction expert witness).  Specifically, the Defendant’s seek to exclude two parts of his report: 1) that properly worn shoulder harnesses would have reduced the Plaintiff’s injuries and 2) that there were numerous other suitable landing sites which Crouch could have utilized to land the plane.

Regarding the first issue, Stimpson opined that Crouch failed to comply with federal regulations which state pilots need to brief their passengers regarding the proper use of shoulder and seat belts.  It is undisputed that the Plaintiff’s were not wearing shoulder belts.  Stimpson stated that if they had properly worn shoulder harnesses, this would have likely reduced the nature of their injuries.  He bases his opinion on a study by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association study that concluded that the risk of a fatal or serious injury with a lap belt and not a shoulder harness was 50% higher than if both belts are worn.  The court agreed with the Defendant’s in that Stimpson did not link this statistic with the specific injuries.   Thus, the court granted the motion in part and denied it in part.

The Defendant’s also seek to exclude Stimpson’s opinion that there were other suitable alternative crash sites that existed on the day of the crash.  They state that this opinion is bases on a Google Earth image from 2012-2014, not 2006, when the crash took place.  The court agreed stating that this part of the opinion is unreliable as it is based on insufficient facts or data.

Held:  The expert witness testimony of Richard Wartman is allowed and the expert witness testimony of Doug Stimpson is partially allowed.