Court Excludes Testimony From Weather Expert Witness For Discussing Maritime Navigation


Weather ExpertCourt: United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Miami Division
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Incardone v. Royal Carribean Cruises, Ltd.
Citation: 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 209109

Facts

The plaintiffs, passengers of a cruise line, sought compensation alleging they sustained psychological injuries when their cruise on the defendant’s ship faced a windstorm caused by hurricane-force winds. The plaintiffs claimed that the defendant had negligently and recklessly sailed the cruise into the path of the storm despite weather forecasts warning of the danger. The defendant argued that the storm was an unexpected “Act of God”, and that maritime law could not be used to recover the stand-alone emotional distress damages claimed by the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs hired a weather expert to support their case. The expert opined that the crew of the ship navigated a route which would have taken them directly through the worst part of the storm based on the weather forecasts available to them at the time. The defendants filed this current motion to exclude the weather expert’s opinion.

The Weather Expert Witness

The plaintiff weather expert witness was a professor in the department of atmospheric sciences at the University of Miami. The weather expert specialized in hurricanes, tornadoes, and tropical meteorology. The weather expert also had extensive experience using computer modeling of weather phenomena to understand  the physical processes that occur in the atmosphere. He completed his undergraduate and graduate studies at Harvard University and held research positions at multiple universities. The weather expert performed substantial research on the dynamics of the formation and intensification of hurricanes. He also has experience investigating convection dynamics in tropical areas and the fluid dynamics of tornadoes.

The weather expert’s report primarily discussed the weather forecasts available to the crew of the ship and the expected weather conditions along the planned route.The expert opined on the crew’s conduct while interpreting the weather forecasts available to them both before and during the voyage. The expert testified that the planned route of the ship would have taken it directly through the storm’s worst part. He further testified that it was clear from the handwritten notes of the crew that they had misinterpreted the forecast information and could have taken an alternative route.

Discussion

The defendant argued that the weather expert’s testimony was inadmissible because he was unqualified to opine on the subject of maritime navigation. The defendant further argued that the methodology that the expert used to form his opinions was unreliable, as it was based only on weather reports and forecasts that the plaintiffs’ counsel provided.

The court agreed that the weather expert was not qualified to offer opinions about maritime navigation on the basis of his expertise in atmospheric sciences. Thus, his statements were liable to be excluded, noting that “the proffered expert must be an expert in the subject matter that he proposes to testify about,” citing Umana-Fowler v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd.

The court held that the expert’s weather-based testimony regarding the interpretation of weather reports, forecasts, and storm predictions along with his opinion regarding the impact of the storm on the ship met the Daubert threshold. The court further noted that the weather expert relied on proper methodology by basing his opinions on graphical ocean weather forecasts along with the defendant’s documents which included the cruise’s logbook and graphical weather forecasts produced by the National Centers for Environmental Information.

Held

The defendant’s motion to exclude the testimony of the plaintiff’s weather expert witness was granted in part and denied in part.

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