Choose Your Automotive Expert Carefully: Commercial Vehicle Operators Cannot Discuss Auto Repairs


Automotive ExpertCourt: United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Phares v. Manheim Remarketing, Inc.,
Citation: 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19364

Experience in commercial vehicle operation, safety, and driver training do not qualify an automotive expert witness to testify to the repair, fabrication, or reconditioning of automobiles.

Facts

During transportation, the rear bumper of a car salvaged by the defendants fell and caused a traffic accident. As a result of this accident, the plaintiff suffered permanent injuries and a passenger in his car died. The plaintiff subsequently filed this suit against the defendants and hired an automotive expert witness to discuss how the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations applied in this case. The defendants moved to exclude portions of the expert’s testimony pertaining to negligence in reattaching the bumper on the part of the defendants.

The Automotive Expert

The plaintiff’s automotive expert witness was a certified driver trainer and a certified director of safety with 45+ years of experience working in the trucking industry. He drove commercially for 30+ years and traveled more than 3 million miles without getting into an accident. He was selected as a captain of America’s Road Team by the American Trucking Associations. The automotive expert also had experience speaking about truck safety in the media as well as industry and civic groups.

The automotive expert retired from active truck driving in 1997 and served as a safety engineer and loss prevention specialist for John Deere Transportation Insurance. He went on to manage the transportation department of a large restaurant food supplier in Florida where his tasks included hiring and retaining drivers, maintenance issues, and Department of Transportation compliance.

The automotive expert had almost 10 years of experience providing accident investigation and litigation assistance to attorneys, trucking companies, and insurance companies. He had experience testifying in federal and state courts across the country and investigating crashes involving commercial vehicles. At the time of the present matter, the expert still held a CDL license and continued driving a commercial vehicle while teaching defensive driving courses.

Discussion

The court noted that the plaintiff had failed to show any relation between the automotive expert’s experience and his conclusion about the correct manner of bumper reattachment. The court observed that there was no evidence to show that the automotive expert was an expert in repair, fabrication, or reconditioning of automobiles. Furthermore, there was no evidence to show that his experience in commercial vehicle operation was a sufficient basis to form his opinion on bumper reattachment.

The court felt that it could not simply assume the automotive expert’s expertise in the matter, noting that “if the witness is relying solely or primarily on experience, the witness must explain how that experience leads to the conclusion reached, why that experience is a sufficient basis for the opinion, and how that experience is reliably applied to the facts. The trial court’s gatekeeping function requires more than simply ‘taking the expert’s word for it,'” citing Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

The court noted that though expert witnesses can base their opinions on facts or data, the opinions must be limited to their respective fields. The court observed that the plaintiff had failed to refute the defendant’s argument that the automotive expert’s expertise was limited to operation, safety, and training of commercial motor vehicles. The court thus rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the expert had relied on facts and data made available to him to form his opinion.

Held

The defendants’ motion to exclude portions of the testimony of the plaintiff’s automotive expert witness was granted.

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