Federal Appellate Court Affirms Summary Judgment in Favor of Defendant under Daubert Standard

semitruckA federal appellate court recently issued an opinion in a personal injury case that was appealed by a plaintiff after the district court excluded the plaintiff’s expert witness testimony. The case is important for New Mexico personal injury plaintiffs, because the Daubert standard employed by the court in this case is the same standard that is used in New Mexico personal injury cases.

The Facts of the Case

The case stems from a 2013 accident in which a young woman and her infant son were involved in a crash with a tractor-trailer that was manufactured by the defendant. The plaintiff sustained severe debilitating brain injuries as a result of the accident and filed a product liability lawsuit against the defendant. The police report indicated that the tractor-trailer was turning on the highway when the woman struck the left side of the trailer. The trailer did not have a side underride guard.

The Case’s Procedural History

The woman’s legal guardian and the infant’s legal guardian filed a lawsuit that was ultimately moved to federal court. Several of the claims were resolved, leaving only a products liability claim against the manufacturer of the trailer. The claim that they were basing their lawsuit on was “crashworthiness” of the trailer. Specifically, that the design of the underride guard installed on the truck was defective, and that there was an alternative design that would have likely prevented the plaintiff’s injuries.

Crashworthiness in Products Liability Lawsuits

There are three main elements when a party wants to bring a lawsuit based on “crashworthiness.” First, they must establish that an alternative safer design was practical. Second, the plaintiff must show what injuries would have been avoided if the safer, alternative design was used. And finally, there must be some method of establishing the extent of enhanced injuries attributable to the defective design.

In this instance, the plaintiff attempted to present two expert opinions who intended on testifying as to the feasibility of a telescoping side underride guard. The defendant moved to exclude their opinions citing the Daubert standard.

The Daubert Standard

Under the Daubert standard, the court looked at certain factors relating to the reliability of the expert testimony. The three main factors they looked at were whether the expert’s theory or technique can and has been tested; whether the theory or technique is generally accepted within the relevant scientific community; and finally, whether the design was prepared solely for the litigation at issue.

The District Court and Circuit Court Ruling

The district court found that even though the experts were qualified, neither of them had expertise in telescoping side guards and their theory was not adequately tested or generally accepted. The court based its opinion in part on the fact that the telescoping side guards had never actually been manufactured and tested, and that the only studies conducted had been based on computer simulations. The plaintiff appealed the ruling to a federal appellate court. Ultimately, that court found that the lower court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the testimony and it was reasonable for the lower court to require actual testing of a physical prototype.

Have You Been Injured in a New Mexico Truck Accident?

If you or a loved one has been injured in a New Mexico truck accident, you should contact the dedicated attorneys at the Fine Law Firm. The attorneys at the Fine Law Firm have decades of experience procuring and preparing expert witnesses in all types of New Mexico personal injury cases, including truck accident claims. Cases of this nature can hinge on expert testimony, and it is important that you have attorneys who can help you with the expert-selection process. If you are successful, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for the injuries you have sustained. Contact the Fine Law Firm today at 800-640-6590 to schedule your free initial consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Investigations in Automobile and Trucking Accidents, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, September 6, 2018.

Court Determines Employer’s Insurance Contract Covered Employee’s Drunk Driving Accident, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, August 20, 2018.

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