Numerous Experts Challenged in Marine Sonar Surveying Case

Plaintiff sued defendants related to a accident involving a boat and a drilling rig at sea.  There were challenges to the numerous experts.  Most of the challenges were denied, while a few scattered parts of motions were granted.

Facts: This case (Shell Offshore Inc. v. Tesla Offshore, L.L.C. et al – United States District Court – Eastern District of Louisiana – September 29th, 2015) involves an accident between a chartered boat and a drilling rig.  A sonar “towfish” deployed by the M/V International Thunder hit a mooring line anchoring the Deepwater Nautilus.   Numerous experts were called to testify and there were many motions to exclude the subsequent testimony.  This case will be of interest to marine insurance expert witnesses.

Discussion: The first expert witness, Ray Ayers, an engineer, was called to opine on the cause of the mooring line failure.  In his report, he cited another report by Cliff Hills, who had stated that there was credibility to the rope damage to the mooring.  Tesla asked that this portion of Ayers opinion should be excluded as Mr. Hills is not listed as an expert witness in this case.  The court agreed and allowed all of Ayers’ testimony except where he cites to the report by Mr. Hills.

The second witness, Holly Sharp, an accountant, was hired by Shell to estimate their damage claim.  Tesla filed a motion to exclude this testimony on the grounds that Sharp has limited knowledge in the drilling business and relied on erroneous assumptions provided to her by Shell.  Tesla does not argue that Ms’ Sharp didn’t use accepted accounting principles in her analysis.  The court ruled that these arguments do not hold water and that they go to the weight of the argument, not their admissibility.

The last set of witnesses are all marine experts hired by the various parties in this case.  At least one of the parties filed a motion to exclude these witnesses as they do not have expertise in the field of sonar surveying.  the court ruled that Rule 702 does not specifically state that an expert does not have be highly qualified to opine about any given issue.  the court disagreed with all of the motions, stating that this case involves vessels at sea and that the experts called are qualified to opine in this case, not only an expert in sonar surveying.

In addition, International asked the court to prohibit Mr. Daley and Mr. Ryan from using legal terminology that is suggestive to the jury.  Specifically, they asked the court to exclude their use of the words “willful”, “reckless”, and “careless”.  The court partly agreed, concluding that using the words “careless” and “reckless” may be used as these terms may or may not be objectionable, but stated that the term “willful” cannot be used as it would not be useful in assisting the jury in making a decision about the case.

Last, International asserts that Mr. Daley’s testimony should be stricken as he met with unspecified employees at Tesla who provided him with information on which he based his conclusions.  The court ruled that International, in their argument, did not provide specifics as to what information was derived from Tesla’s employees and, thus, that motion is denied.

Held:  All motions to exclude testimony were denied, except for those noted above.