Saturday, January 05, 2008

8th Circuit Reverses Exclusion of Accident Reconstruction Experts

The Eighth Circuit has reversed a trial court decision that excluded testimony from plaintiffs' accident reconstruction experts and awarded summary judgment to defendants. The district court relied in part on differences between conditions in the experts' testing and during the accident. Those differences were not so substantial, the appellate panel held, as to render the experts' opinions unreliable. See Sappington v. Skyjack, Inc., No. 06-3855 (8th Cir. Jan. 4, 2008) (Bye, Bowman, & Smith, JJ.).


Thursday, March 29, 2007

8th Circuit Upholds Exclusion of Testimony from Self-Proclaimed Engineer

As with Iraq, so too with Daubert: Nobody ever talks about all the good news.

Yesterday, the Eighth Circuit published its decision in Ahlberg v. Chrysler Corp., No. 06-1560 (8th Cir. Mar. 28, 2007) (Bye, Bowman & Gruender, JJ.). The plaintiff was killed trying to stop his son's 1999 Dodge Ram truck from rolling down the driveway, after the plaintiff's 28-month-old grandson, who had been left in the cab with the motor running, apparently shifted the truck into neutral or reverse. In the ensuing lawsuit against Chrysler, the plaintiff's theory was that the truck was defectively designed because it did not incorporate a brake-shift interlock ("BSI") device, which would have required that the brake be depressed while the driver shifted the vehicle out of park. To support that theory, the plaintiff offered expert testimony from Paul Sheridan, a former Chrysler employee who had chaired a Chrysler minivan "safety leadership team" from 1992 to 1994, when the team was disbanded and Sheridan discharged. The team never considered whether the Dodge Ram should be equipped with a BSI device. Sheridan had no engineering degree, but described himself as an engineer because he had "dealt with engineers," "managed engineers," and "been involved with technical issues" for his entire occupational life.

The Eighth Circuit upheld the trial court's exclusion of Sheridan's testimony. From the opinion:
We hold that the magistrate judge did not abuse his discretion in refusing to allow Sheridan to testify as an expert. The proffer of Sheridan's testimony was properly rejected because Sheridan employed no methodology whatsoever -- reliable or otherwise. The plaintiffs attempt to satisfy the Rule 702 and Daubert criteria by arguing that Sheridan's techniques were subject to review by his Chrysler peers; that a BSI device was more than 99% reliable; and that Chrysler, as a whole, employed manufacturing and safety standards recognized in the auto industry. These arguments lack any substance. First, the plaintiffs have not actually described Sheridan's alleged techniques, nor have we identified any from the record. Second, even if we were to assume that Sheridan was a member of a specialized field, the relevant peer-review group would not be Sheridan's coworkers. If that proposition were true, any employee could arguably be considered an expert on account of the fact that he or she worked with others. Third, the plaintiffs' argument regarding error rate fails to address any methodology actually used by Sheridan. The plaintiffs' argument regarding general acceptance in the relevant community suffers from the same flaw.
We do not know the facts of the case and express no view on the merits. We are obviously very sorry for the Ahlberg family's loss. And Paul Sheridan may be a fine and knowledgeable fellow.

But here, in at least one tiny little pocket of Baghdad, things went as planned and intended. Daubert and Rule 702 accomplished their mission. In Ahlberg, we have a case in which no court can be accused of stretching the rules to admit expert testimony in promiscuous fashion. Similar outcomes may be more common than some partisans in the expert wars care to admit.


Friday, February 09, 2007

Eighth Circuit Upholds Testimony from Damages Expert in Trade Secrets Misappropriation Case

The Eighth Circuit has upheld testimony from the plaintiff's damages expert in a trade secrets case, over defense objections that the testimony was based on factually faulty assumptions. See Synergetics, Inc. v. Hurst, No. 06-1146 (8th Cir. Feb. 5, 2007) (Melloy, Benton, & Shepherd, JJ.).


Fed. R. Evid. 702: If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (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.