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Franco v. Mabe Trucking Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

March 6, 2019


          MAG. Judge KAREN L. HAYES



         Pending here is Plaintiff David Franco's (“Franco”) Motion in Limine to Prohibit Testimony and Opinions of Defendants' Accident Reconstructionist, William Miller [Doc. No. 135]. Defendants have filed an opposition [Doc. No. 143].

         This case arises out of a motor vehicle accident. On or about November 24, 2015, Franco's vehicle was involved in a collision with an 18-wheel truck owned by Defendant Mabe Trucking Co., Inc., (“Mabe”) and being driven by Defendant Richard Agee (“Agee”) on Interstate 20 in Louisiana shortly after crossing the border between Texas and Louisiana. On November 22, 2016, Franco filed suit against Mabe in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Marshall Division, alleging diversity of citizenship jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). On July 6, 2017, the suit was transferred to this Court. On May 3, 2018, Franco filed a Supplemental and Amended Complaint adding Agee and National Interstate Insurance Company as defendants.

         Franco alleges that the accident was caused by the negligent operation of the Mabe truck by Agee in pulling onto Interstate 20 directly in front of him. Defendants contend the accident was caused solely by the negligence of Franco in not paying attention and rear-ending the Mabe truck. Thus, one of the issues to be presented to the jury is fault.

         Franco's Motion in Limine requests exclusion of the opinion testimony of Defendants' expert in accident reconstruction, William Miller, on the basis that his expert opinions are irrelevant, inadmissible, and lack generally accepted scientific basis.

         Federal Rule of Evidence 702 establishes the standards for admissibility of expert testimony to assist a trier of fact in understanding evidence or determining a fact in issue. In determining whether expert testimony is reliable and relevant, the district court's role in applying Rule 702 is that of a gatekeeper. See Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 597-598, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993). However, as gatekeeper, the district court is not intended to replace the adversary system: “Vigorous cross-examination, presentation of contrary evidence, and careful instruction on the burden of proof are the traditional and appropriate means of attacking shaky but admissible evidence.” United States v. 14.38 Acres of Land, More or Less Situated in Lefore County, Miss., 3d 1074');">80 F.3d 1074, 1078 (5th Cir. 1996) (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S. at 596.

         In determining whether to allow expert opinion testimony, the court must first decide whether the witness is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education. See Moore v. Ashland Chemical, Inc., 126 F.3d 679, 684 (5th Cir. 1997). A district court should refuse to allow an expert witness to testify if it finds that the witness is not qualified to testify in a particular field or on a particular subject. Wilson v. Woods, 3 F.3d 935');">163 F.3d 935 (5th Cir. 1999).

         If a witness is qualified to testify, the court must then determine whether the proffered testimony is both relevant and reliable. “The expert testimony must be relevant, not simply in the sense that all testimony must be relevant, Federal Rule of Evidence 402, but also in the sense that the expert's proposed opinion would assist the trier of fact to understand or determine a fact in issue.” Bocanegra v. Vicmar Services, Inc., 320 F.3d 581');">320 F.3d 581, 584 (5th Cir. 2003) (citing Daubert, 509 U.S. at 591-92).

         As to reliability, Rule 702 only authorizes the admission of expert testimony when “(1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.” Fed.R.Evid. 702. Expert testimony requires more than “subjective belief or unsupported speculation.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 590.

         Franco objects to Mr. Miller's testimony on three grounds: (1) Mr. Miller did not perform a “lead vehicle analysis;” (2) Mr. Miller's “context clues” are irrelevant; and (3) Mr. Miller should not be permitted to speculate as to the reason for Franco's alleged distraction prior to impact.

         Franco contends that several studies have confirmed the difficulty following drivers have in determining closing speeds and responding to a slow-moving lead vehicle. He asserts that the seminal paper on lead vehicle detection analysis is entitled, “Relationship Between Relative Velocity Detection and Driver Response Times in Vehicle Following Situations” and authored by Jeffrey W. Muttart (the “Muttart Paper”).

         Franco states that Dr. Muttart is an expert in accident reconstruction and human factors, and his research and methodologies are generally accepted in the field. Further, according to Dr. Muttart, the generally accepted methodology in reconstructing rear-end collisions is a lead vehicle detection analysis. Therefore, Franko concludes that a reconstructionist must perform a lead vehicle detection analysis.

         Franco asserts that Mr. Miller did not perform a lead vehicle detection analysis, and, as such, Mr. Miller's conclusions are based upon faulty methodologies and unsupported assumptions, and this Court ...

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