Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana
Case Name: Fick v. Exxon Mobil Corp.
Citation: 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2771
This case involves a boating accident that occurred in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana in October of 2013. On the day of the incident, the plaintiffs Thomas Fick and Antoine Gregoire were shrimping in Bayou Jean La Croix Field. While in open waterway, the boat hit a pipe owned by Exxon Mobil Corporation, allegedly causing the plaintiffs to suffer critical injuries. The plaintiffs moved this negligence suit against Exxon and sought punitive and compensatory damages under the general maritime law.
The Aerial Photography Expert
The plaintiffs retained an expert in aerial photography to opine on the case. The expert had over 30 years of experience in the fields of aerial photographic interpretation and photogrammetry. He held a degree in geology and worked for the EPA in its Environmental Photographic Interpretation Center (EPIC), which was founded to “use monoscopic and stereoscopic aerial photographs and imagery to support [the] EPA’s research and regulatory programs.” This work covered the analysis of the current and historical environmental aerial photographic interpretation and photogrammetry. During his time working with EPIC, the expert was involved in perfecting the method for using aerial photographs to recognize lineament and fractures to ascertain groundwater flow influences.
Exxon subsequently moved a motion in limine to exclude the testimony and other evidence provided by the plaintiff’s aerial photography expert. Exxon argued that the aerial photography expert should be restrained from testifying regarding any variant of the photograph as he lacked the requisite qualifications. Exxon pointed out that the expert was not a certified photogrammetrist and argued that his expertise was confined to the analysis of aerial photographs in circumstances other than photogrammetry.
Exxon further argued that the expert did not employ standard industry methodology in his expert analysis. Exxon contested that the photography expert did not use a stereo pair through a stereoscope to give his determinations and that utilizing a stereo pair required multiple images, whereas the expert had only applied only a single image. Exxon suggested that for these reasons, the expert’s methodology was unreliable. However, the plaintiffs argued that the expert’s methodology used an analysis of the historical aerial photograph—a methodology based upon by the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing.
The court denied the defendant’s motion in limine to exclude the aerial photography expert and held that the expert’s testimony would be essential to the jury.
The court found that the expert was qualified as an expert in the field of historical aerial photography interpretation, and also found that the expert’s methodology was reliable as it relied on ample facts and data. The court also found that Exxon’s concerns regarding the expert’s testimony and his report went to the weight and not the admissibility of the evidence.