Three Expert Witnesses Allowed in Vehicle Sunroof Case.

Putative class action plaintiffs filed suit against the vehicle manufacturer for defects in the sunroofs of certain cars.  Both parties filed motions to exclude three expert opinions.  The court denied the three motions.

Facts – This case (NEALE et al v. VOLVO CARS OF NORTH AMERICA, LLC et al – United States District Court – District of New Jersey – April 3rd, 2017) is a putative class action involving the sunroofs of certain cars that were sold to customers by the defendants (Volvo).  The plaintiffs allege that the drainage tubes in the sunroof drainage systems had sound plugs that were supposed to 1) decrease the amount of exterior wind noise, and 2) inhibit the flow of water and debris through the tubes.  The plaintiffs hired Charles Benedict (mechanical engineering expert witness) and Patrick Passarella (class actions expert witness) and defendants hired (statistics expert witness) to provide testimony.  All three of these experts were challenged by the other parties.

Discussion:  Benedict’s report opines that the sound plugs at end of the drainage tubes have a design defect common in all of the vehicles that have infiltrated water.  The defendants do not challenge Benedict’s qualifications as an engineer.  The court also finds as reliable Benedict’s opinions that the vehicles have a common design defect that should be considered for a motion for class certification.  His opinions relied on statements from Volvo’s own employees, who stated that the sound plugs have a common function and design across vehicles.

The defendants argue that Benedict did not extensively test the drainage systems in the sunroof.  The court opines here that arguments of this type go to the weight, not the admissibility of the evidence.  In addition, the court opined that Benedict’s expert opinion will of use 1) in considering the forthcoming class certification motion and 2) in assisting the trier of fact to understand the safety issues that were created by the alleged defect.

The plaintiff’s have filed a motion to exclude the testimony of Marais.  The defendants had submitted this testimony to counter the opinion of Walter Bratic, the plaintiffs’ mathematical and statistical expert on three issues: 1) the costs of repairing the alleged drainage defect; 2) the number of vehicles that are still in use that Bratic used in nationwide model, rather than states individually; and 3) the process by which the alleged vehicles with defects can be located.

The court concludes that Marais’s opinion passes teh Daubert test. The plaintiffs argue that there are concerns with Marais’s arguments that 1) the defendants records of the vehicles will be of no use to where the actual vehicles are now; and 2) the registration information of the vehicle maintained by the states will not reflect where the vehicle was bought or leases.  The court opines here that these arguments go to the weight of the evidence, not their admissibility.  In addition, the court opines that Marais’s opinions will be of assistance to the trier of fact.

Passarella’s testimony maintains that the vehicle identification numbers for the Vehicles will be able to be processed through the state registration databases.  The court opines that this opinion is reliable and will be helpful when the motion to for class certification is addressed.

Conclusion:  The motions to exclude the three expert opinions in this case are denied.