The Exclusion of Experts in Auto Wreck Cases

Although expert evidence has long been essential to many forms of tort litigation, car accident litigation has often not been associated with expert testimony. However, with increasing regularity, practitioners are calling upon various experts to provide critical evidence in motor vehicle accident cases. With reliance on expert testimony, however, comes the multitude of rules governing the utilization of expert testimony and evidence. For instance, in a recent decision, Hamlett v. Carroll Fulmer Logistics Corp., a Georgia federal court needed to resolve the admissibility of certain expert evidence in a motor vehicle accident case.

Hamlett began with a 2014 motor vehicle accident in Richmond Hill, Georgia. The plaintiff, who had recently returned from overseas military deployment, was driving his motorcycle along a four-lane road when he collided with a truck owned by Carroll Fulmer Logistics Corporation. A State Patrol officer arrived at the scene and after an investigation determined that the truck driver was at fault because the collision was caused by the truck driver turning left into oncoming traffic, despite the plaintiff having the right-of-way. The truck driver was issued a failure to yield citation. The plaintiff incurred injuries as a result of the accident, and his wife and he brought suit against the truck driver, Carroll Fulmer, and  Carroll Fulmer’s insurer.

Following discovery, the defendants moved to exclude portions of an expert report and certain potential testimony from both the plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert and the investigating State Patrol officer. To the plaintiff's likely disappointment, the court determined that exclusion was proper and granted the motion.

With respect to the accident reconstruction expert’s report and testimony, the court ruled that exclusion was proper for two reasons. First, pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 16(b)(3)(B)(i) and 26(a)(2)(D), the court may set deadlines for the disclosure of expert evidence.  In the current case, the report tendered to the defendants prior to the expert’s deposition was incomplete, and the expert supplemented the report with testimony provided at his deposition, which occurred after the deadline for submitting expert reports. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(2)(B)(i) (stating that an expert report should provide a “complete statement of all opinions the witness will express and the basis and reasons for them”). Even though the plaintiff maintained that the defendants were not prejudiced by the delay, the Court found this argument unavailing, for the plaintiff did not provide any justification for submitting an incomplete report prior to the deadline, and the defendants were left unable to fully examine issues raised in the report and prepare inquiries for the deposition. Accordingly, the Court ruled that the expert should be barred from testifying on issues not adequately raised in the report.

Second, with respect to the law enforcement officer’s testimony, the defendants argued that testimony related to whether or not the plaintiff had sufficient time to perceive and react to the truck driver’s turn prior to the impact should be excluded. Indeed, the officer conceded at his deposition that he lacked experience in calculating accident speeds and that he did not attempt to make such a calculation in investigating this crash. Although the officer had experience in performing crash investigations, the Court reasoned that the lack of a scientific basis for the expert's ultimate conclusion that the plaintiff had insufficient time to perceive and react to the truck driver’s turn meant that the evidence should be excluded. Accordingly, the Court ruled that the officer should not be permitted to testify as to this issue at trial. See, e.g., Umana-Fowler v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., 49 F. Supp. 3d 1120, 1122 (S.D. Fla. 2014) (explaining that a court “cannot admit an expert who simply states that he used the ‘scientific method’ to reach his conclusions; more is required.”); Swinney v. Schneider Nat’l Carriers, Inc., 829 F. Supp. 2d 1358, 1363 (N.D. Ga. 2011) (excluding expert testimony regarding auto accident because opinion was based on unspecified testing and a review of photographs, films, and deposition).

Although the exclusion of the aforementioned expert testimony does not completely destroy the viability of the plaintiff’s claims, the exclusion of this evidence will make the plaintiff’s task of establishing liability far more difficult. Indeed, given the growing importance of expert evidence in even garden variety tort cases, litigants should be attentive to finding counsel knowledgeable about the procedural and substantive requirements for expert reports and testimony. 

The car accident attorneys at the Simon Law Firm have represented many injured Georgia drivers and are experienced in the legal rules governing expert evidence. If you’ve recently been harmed as a result of the possible negligence of another driver and are interested in learning more about the legal options you may have for recovery, feel free to contact us and schedule a free case consultation.

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