Summary: A Weather & Meteorology Expert Witness allowed to testify, in part, in fire litigation caused by lightning despite objections from the plaintiffs that his testimony would not assist the trier of fact.
Facts: This case (Philmar Dairy, LLC et al v. Armstrong Farms, et al – United States District Court – District of New Mexico – July 12th, 2019) involves a dispute over the delivery of alfalfa hay. The plaintiffs allege that the defendant did not deliver over 2,500 tons of hay and did not refund the money to the plaintiffs. The defendants state that a fire caused lightning destroyed the hay. The plaintiffs state that the defendants fabricated the existence of the fire. The defendants hired Dr. Elizabeth Austin (Weather & Meteorology Expert Witness) to provide testimony. The plaintiffs have filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.
Discussion: The court notes that Dr. Austin was retained by the defendants to opine on the likelihood that lightning struck on or near the disputed hay around the time the defendants say that the fire began. Dr. Austin analyzed storm reports, temperature reports, radar data, weather forecasts, and other information to come to her conclusion that she is 99% sure that lightning struck within certain confidence ellipses near the hay.
The plaintiffs argue that the court should exclude Dr. Austin’s testimony because it will not help the jury decide the case and that its probative value is outweighed by the likelihood that it will confuse the jury. The court opines that Dr. Austin’s opinion on lightning strikes occurring after the early morning of August 24th are not relevant, but will allow Dr. Austin’s testimony about lightning strikes between August 22nd and the early morning of August 24th.
The court also opines that Dr. Austin will not be allowed to testify that lightning caused the fire. The court also opines that Dr. Austin will be allowed to testify that “lightning struck within certain confidence ellipses near the hay and that the weather conditions at the time were conducive to fire.”
The question that the court currently asks is whether the proposed testimony would help the jury. The court opines that Dr. Austin’s testimony about lightning strikes between August 22nd and the early morning of August 24th is relevant. The court also notes that there is no testimony that the fire occurred at any time after the early morning of August 24th.
In addition, the court opines that the court does not believe that Dr. Austin’s testimony would usurp the jury’s role of evaluating a witness’s credibility.
Conclusion: The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Dr. Elizabeth Austin is granted in part and denied in part.