United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ORDER AND REASONS
S. VANCE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
move to exclude the expert testimony of Valery
Rousseau. For the following reasons, the motion is
granted in part and denied in part.
case arises out of injuries sustained by plaintiff Nicholas
Martinez when the door of a transport trailer fell on him.
Plaintiff alleges that on April 18, 2016, he was helping
defendant Dante Cunningham load Cunningham's car and
motorcycle into a transport trailer. The rear of this transport
trailer featured a large cargo door hinged at the
bottom. While the door usually opened and closed
by means of a cable and winch system, the system was broken
at the time.
to plaintiff, he and Cunningham tried to pull the door down
manually. Because Cunningham, who is 6'
8”, is much taller than plaintiff, initially only
Cunningham could reach the top of the door. Plaintiff
positioned himself beneath the door and waited for Cunningham
to lower it to where plaintiff could reach it. According to
plaintiff, Cunningham then let go of the door because it was
too heavy, causing the door to crush plaintiff's legs and
injure his back. Cunningham testified in a deposition that
if plaintiff had held the door closer to the hinges from the
beginning, then the door would not have fallen.
sued Cunningham for damages on September 22, 2016. Plaintiff
added USAA Casualty Insurance Company, which provided
liability insurance to Cunningham, as a defendant on December
14, 2016. Trial is set for February 26, 2018.
Defendants now move to exclude the expert testimony and
report of Valery Rousseau, a physicist at Loyola University
Rule of Evidence 702 gives the district court considerable
discretion to admit or exclude expert testimony. See Gen.
Elec. Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136, 138-39 (1997). Rule
702 provides that a witness “qualified as an expert by
knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education”
may provide opinion testimony when “scientific,
technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier
of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in
issue.” Fed.R.Evid. 702. To be admissible, Rule 702
requires that (1) the testimony be based on sufficient facts
or data, (2) the testimony be the product of reliable
principles and methods, and (3) the witness apply the
principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.
Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., the
Supreme Court held that Rule 702 requires the district court
to act as a gatekeeper to ensure that “any and all
scientific testimony or evidence admitted is not only
relevant, but reliable.” 509 U.S. 579, 589 (1993);
see also Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137,
147 (1999) (clarifying that the Daubert gatekeeping
function applies to all forms of expert testimony). The
Court's gatekeeping function therefore involves a
two-part inquiry. First, the Court must determine whether the
expert testimony is reliable, i.e., “grounded
in the methods and procedures of science.” SEC v.
Life Partners Holdings, Inc., 854 F.3d 765, 775 (5th
Cir. 2017) (quoting Johnson v. Arkema, Inc., 685
F.3d 452, 459 (5th Cir. 2012)). The party offering the
testimony has the burden of establishing reliability by a
preponderance of the evidence. See Moore v. Ashland Chem.
Inc., 151 F.3d 269, 276 (5th Cir. 1998). The Court must
assess whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the
expert's testimony is valid. See Daubert, 509
U.S. at 590. The aim is to exclude expert testimony based
merely on subjective belief or unsupported speculation.
See Id. The Court's inquiry into the reliability
of expert testimony is flexible and necessarily
fact-specific. See Seatrax, Inc. v. Sonbeck Int'l,
Inc., 200 F.3d 358, 372 (5th Cir. 2000).
the Court must determine whether the expert's reasoning
or methodology “fits” the facts of the case and
whether it will assist the trier of fact to understand the
evidence. See Daubert, 509 U.S. at 591. This is
primarily an inquiry into the relevance of the expert
testimony. See id; see also Bocanegra v. Vicmar Services,
Inc., 320 F.3d 581, 584 (5th Cir. 2003) (“The
expert testimony must be relevant . . . in the sense that the
expert's proposed opinion would assist the trier of fact
to understand or determine a fact in issue.”). Expert
testimony is unnecessary if the court finds that “the
jury could adeptly assess [the] situation using only their
common experience and knowledge.” Peters v. Five
Star Marine Serv., 898 F.2d 448, 450 (5th Cir. 1990).
report offers three opinions. First, Rousseau states that
the door exerted no force on Cunningham when it began its
downward descent. Second, Rousseau opines that this force
increased to a maximum of 115 pounds as the door descended,
and that plaintiff could reach the top of the door only when
it had moved 40.8° from its vertical position. Third,
Rousseau opines that plaintiff's “presence closer
to the door when the door first began its downward
movement” would not have made “a difference in
preventing the door from dropping.” According to
plaintiff, these opinions would rebut Cunningham's
testimony that plaintiff should have helped to hold up the
door as soon as the door started moving
opinions about the downward force exerted by the door are
both reliable and helpful. These opinions are based on the
physical characteristics of the door-its weight, length, and
distance from the ground-and trigonometric equations. The
Court is satisfied that Rousseau arrived at these opinions
using scientific methods and procedures.See Life
Partners Holdings, 854 F.3d at 775. Moreover, these
opinions could assist the jury in determining whether
Cunningham acted negligently either by ...