Court Criticizes Automotive Expert Testimony as “Exactly the Sort of Speculation Daubert is Designed to Exclude”


Automotive Expert

Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Western Division
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Powell v. Camping World RV Sales LLC
Citation: 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 193924

Facts

The plaintiffs bought a motorcoach which malfunctioned secondary to fuel contamination. After the producers and retailers refused to pay for the repair cost, the plaintiffs filed a motion against the defendants asserting claims for revocation of acceptance, deceit, violation of  Arkansas New Motor Vehicle Quality Assurance Act, Ark. Code Ann. § 4-90-401, et seq. (Lemon Law), and negligent repair.

The plaintiffs retained an automotive expert witness to allege that the motorcoach malfunction was due to fuel contamination that occurred secondary to the acts of one or more of the defendants.

The Automotive Expert

The plaintiff’s automotive expert was a principal engineer with 30+ years of experience. He worked at a firm specializing in forensic engineering, traditional engineering, and process improvement. His firm also evaluated equipment, supported clients in design efforts, and reverse-engineered existing equipment to ensure its quality and capacities met intended design parameters.

The expert held degrees in mechanical engineering and had years of experience servicing as lead engineer on many accident reconstruction, industrial accident, and construction defect cases.

The automotive expert witness opined that fuel contamination had caused the plaintiff’s injury and that one or more of the defendants were involved in this contamination.

Court Discussion

The court found that the plaintiff’s automotive expert witness had not used any proper scientific methodology to come to his conclusions regarding the cause of the fuel contamination or the defendants’ involvement. The court noted that the expert’s conclusions were “exactly the sort of unscientific speculation that Daubert was designed to exclude.” Eberli v. Cirrus Design Corp., 615 F. Supp. 2d 1357, 1365 (S.D. Fla. 2009)

The court noted that even though the automotive expert professed to have experience working with vehicular fuel contamination, he did not mention specific examples or illustrate how any such prior experience helped him in arriving at his conclusions. The court further noted that the plaintiffs had failed to show whether the automotive expert’s theory of fuel contamination on the defendants’ part was supported by peer review.

Moreover, it was found that the plaintiffs had failed to show any correlation between the vehicle in contention and biodiesel vehicles. Thus, there was no basis for the automotive expert’s opinion to be based on Mercedes Benz’s publication on biodiesel vehicles.

The court was of the opinion that the automotive expert failed to disprove alternate theories when he admitted the possibility of someone else contaminating the fuel after the plaintiffs purchased the vehicle from the defendants. The court noted that the automotive expert had not studied fuel contamination rates in similar vehicles which were serviced at service stations in the area where the plaintiffs had refueled the present vehicle.

The court rejected the expert’s opinion that there was no way of finding out the true causation of fuel contamination because or more of the defendants had failed to perform industry-standard fuel sampling method. This opinion was rejected on the basis that the plaintiffs could not show that any of the defendants were under the obligation to perform these tests, nor that the alleged visual inspection of fuel was not according to industry standard. The plaintiffs could neither prove that one or more of the defendants had any reason to suspect fuel contamination in the vehicle. In this scenario, admitting such an opinion would be giving rise to speculation.

Held

The court held that it was not appropriate for the plaintiff’s automotive expert to reach a determination on whether the jury should be permitted to draw an adverse inference from purportedly missing evidence based on alleged spoliation. The court noted that “instructing the jury is the job of the court, not an expert witness.”

The court held that the automotive expert had developed, and repeatedly altered, his testimony for the purposes of this litigation. It was further noted that the expert had failed to demonstrate any specific methodology, principles, or foundation to support his conclusion that it was likely that the vehicle’s fuel contamination was caused by the defendants.

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