Sandra and Fred Seamans v. Andrew B. Tremontana, et al., No. 3:13–0698, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania; Sept. 3, 2014
This case involves an accident between Sandra and Fred Seamans and Andrew Tremontana. It occurred on Interstate 81 as the Seamanses were merging onto the highway. A box truck in front of Tremontana swerved to avoid hitting the Seamanses’ car. Tremontana was unable to avoid them and rear-ended them, causing their car to spin out. Consequently, the accident left both plaintiffs with various injuries. At issue is whether Tremontana was driving negligently and caused the accident.
Accident Reconstructionist Expert:
The defendants sought to exclude proposed testimony of accident reconstructionist expert Frank Costanzo. They used the grounds that his testimony fails to meet the Daubert standard and usurps the role of the jury.
Costanzo concluded that Tremontana was driving too close to the box truck in front of him, was unable to stop given his 65 mph speed and the spacing, had sufficient time to change lanes prior to the accident, and would have had a clear line of sight had he not been too close to the box truck in front of him or had changed lanes. Thus, he based these conclusions on his inspection of the scene of the crash, the depositions of the plaintiffs and Tremontana, the police reports, the photographs of the cars, his observations of the location of the accident, and several calculations taking into account speed and road conditions.
Admissibility of Accident Reconstructionist Expert:
In a memorandum opinion, Judge Malachy E. Manion of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania said the essential question regarding Costanzo’s admissibility is whether his testimony is wholly based on knowledge and common sense findings that could just as easily be made by the jury without his testimony.
“The average juror will not know how long it takes a vehicle to stop on a dry highway traveling at 65 miles per hour given that it requires special calculations that take into account speed, road conditions, and other factors,” the judge said. “The defendants do not challenge the basis of this equation or his findings with regard to stopping distance. As such, that testimony is admissible.”
Further, the accident reconstructionist’s opinion that Tremontana could have changed lanes in .17 seconds is relevant to rebut the “sudden emergency” claim given by Tremontana, the judge said.
Lastly, the judge rejected the defendants’ contention that the accident reconstructionist’s opinion embraces the ultimate issue and usurps the role of the jury.
“Here, the expert opines that Mr. Tremontana’s failure to maintain a safe distance between his car and the box truck in front of him and his failure to change lanes to clear his line of sight caused the accident,” the judge said. “Given the above discussion, his opinion on this issue is admissible in so far as it draws a factual conclusion about the factors that caused the accident. He does not draw any legal conclusions or give an opinion directly finding that Mr. Tremontana was negligent. As such, his expert opinion is fully admissible.”