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Jones v. Beelman Truck Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

June 9, 2015

RAYMOND K. JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
BEELMAN TRUCK COMPANY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

CHARLES A. SHAW, District Judge.

This diversity matter is before the Court on defendant Beelman Truck Company's ("Beelman") motion to exclude certain testimony of plaintiff's expert witness William Hampton pursuant to Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). Plaintiff Raymond K. Jones opposes the motion and it is fully briefed. Neither party has requested an evidentiary hearing, and the parties have submitted an evidentiary record including exhibits and deposition testimony. The Court finds that it can make a proper Daubert analysis without the need for an evidentiary hearing or oral argument. For the following reasons, Beelman's motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

In the early morning hours of January 17, 2008, while walking along the highway leading toward his home, plaintiff was struck by a Beelman tractor-trailer operated by Steven Reinhardt. The accident occurred on Missouri Route 221, near its intersection with U.S. Highway 67 in Farmington, Missouri. Plaintiff alleges he suffers serious and permanent injuries to his head, body, back, arms, legs, face, spine, organs, and feet. He brings this suit against Beelman in two counts: negligence (Count I) and negligent failure to train (Count II).

II. Legal Standard

The admission of expert testimony in federal court is governed by Federal Rule of Evidence 702. In Daubert, the United States Supreme Court interpreted Rule 702 to require district courts to be certain that expert evidence based on scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge is "not only relevant, but reliable." Daubert, 509 U.S. at 589. The district court must make a "preliminary assessment of whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony is scientifically valid and of whether that reasoning or methodology properly can be applied to the facts in issue." Id. at 592-93.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has stated that proposed expert testimony must meet three criteria to be admissible under Rule 702. "First, evidence based on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge must be useful to the finder of fact in deciding the ultimate issue of fact. This is the basic rule of relevancy." Lauzon v. Senco Prods., Inc., 270 F.3d 681, 686 (8th Cir. 2001). "Second, the proposed witness must be qualified to assist the finder of fact." Id. (citation omitted). "Third, the proposed evidence must be reliable or trustworthy in an evidentiary sense, so that, if the finder of fact accepts it as true, it provides the assistance the finder of fact requires." Id. To meet the third requirement, the testimony must be "based on sufficient facts or data" and be "the product of reliable principles and methods;" and the expert must have "reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case." Fed.R.Evid. 702(b)-(d).

The Eighth Circuit has explained that "Rule 702 reflects an attempt to liberalize the rules governing the admission of expert testimony, " Weisgram v. Marley Co., 169 F.3d 514, 523 (8th Cir. 1999), and "favors admissibility if the testimony will assist the trier of fact." Clark ex rel. Clark v. Heidrick, 150 F.3d 912, 915 (8th Cir. 1998). Doubt regarding "whether an expert's testimony will be useful should generally be resolved in favor of admissibility." Id. (citation and internal quotation omitted).

III. Discussion

Plaintiff disclosed Mr. William E. Hampton as an expert witness. Mr. Hampton's expert report concludes as follows:

(1) Steven Reinhardt was inattentive as he approached Raymond Jones.
(2) Steven Reinhardt had a sight distance of 350 to 500 feet ahead.
(3) Steven Reinhardt had a distance to perceive and brake his vehicle to a stop prior to reaching Raymond Jones if he was attentive, while traveling at 35, 40, and 45 mph.
(4) Steven Reinhardt had a distance to perceive and swerve at 35, 40, 45 mph to avoid Raymond Jones.
(5) There was sufficient ambient lighting and headlamp lighting to illuminate Jones in or near the roadway.
(6) The dirt on Reinhardt's windshield and headlamps further diminished his ability to see properly.
(7) Due to the absence of Steven Reinhardt's drivers' daily logs leading up to the date of the crash, I could not investigate the hours worked and movements of Steven Reinhardt. These records should have been retained by the Beelman Trucking Company.
(8) Steven Reinhardt did not place his vehicle in an emergency braking mode.
(9) If Steven Reinhardt would have been attentive, he could have avoided this crash.

Beelman moves for the exclusion of Mr. Hampton's conclusion numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 9, arguing that Mr. Hampton is either unqualified to give the opinions or the opinions are unsupported and unreliable. Beelman states that Mr. Hampton is not qualified to render opinions regarding human factors evidence and, even if he was qualified, his opinions and methodology are unreliable and violate Daubert. The Court will address each argument.

A. Human Factors Opinions

Beelman argues that Mr. Hampton is not a human factors expert, and is therefore not qualified to testify as to conclusion numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 9 regarding driver perception and response. Beelman states that because Mr. Hampton testified in another case that he is not a human factors expert, he does not have specialized knowledge regarding human factors and these opinions should be excluded.

Rule 702 requires the area of the witness's competence to match the subject matter of the witness's testimony. "[F]or an expert witness to be qualified based on experience, that experience must bear a close relationship to the expert's opinion." Schmidt v. City of Bella Villa, 557 F.3d 564, 571 (8th Cir. 2009). Mr. Hampton's professional experience as an accident reconstructionist bears a close relationship to the opinions provided in his report. See Lift Truck Lease & Serv., Inc. v. Nissan Forklift Corp., 2013 WL 3154012, *7 (E.D. Mo. June 21, 2013) (finding the experience of the proffered expert did not bear a close enough relationship to his opinion to provide a sufficient basis for the opinion); compare to In re Levaquin Products Liab. Litig., 2010 WL 8399948, *7 (D. Minn. Nov. 12, 2010) (expert was qualified to provide opinion on medication labeling because of her long experience in the pharmaceutical industry, which included drafting product labels).

Since 1991, Mr. Hampton has been the President of W.E. Hampton & Associates, Inc. and has provided consulting and expert testimony on motor vehicle accident reconstruction, motor carrier safety and performance, and motor carrier compliance with federal and state regulations. He has been certified as a Motor Vehicle Accident Reconstructionist through the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Institute of Police Technology and Management. He has testified as an expert witness in civil and criminal cases in various state and federal courts and as a police officer and a private investigator. His background includes thirteen years of service for the Missouri State Highway Patrol as a patrol officer investigating motor vehicle accidents and providing accident reconstruction. He also worked several years at Champion Distribution Services, a nationwide motor carrier, as the Director of Safety & Maintenance.

Mr. Hampton's conclusions 2, 3, and 4 fall well within his area of expertise: accident reconstruction and investigation. A driver's perception distance, reaction distance, braking distance, and total stopping distance are discussed on page 2-14 of the Missouri Commercial Driver License Manual. See Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 3 at 2-14. Mr. Hampton used equations published by the Institute of Police Technology and Management in its Equations for the Traffic Accident Reconstructionist Manual to calculate Mr. Reinhardt's time to stop and swerving distance to avoid an object. See Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 4 at 15, 18, 20, 28. These calculations were based, in part, on Mr. Reinhardt's testimony regarding his speed at the time of the accident and the strength of his headlight beams. The Court cannot find that testimony as to a driver's sight distance, perception distance, and swerve distance necessarily requires expertise in human factors as opposed to motor vehicle accident reconstruction. In fact, it seems the question of perception is always at issue in an accident reconstruction case where allegations include that the driver should have braked or swerved to avoid the collision. These conclusions all fall within the scope of Mr. Hampton's expertise in accident reconstruction.

The cases defendant relies on are distinguishable, as they concern experts who were testifying outside their field of experience. For example, in Anderson v. Raymond Corporation, 340 F.3d 520 (8th Cir. 2003), the Eighth Circuit upheld a district court's order striking an expert's testimony regarding a defective lift truck. The expert admitted he was not an expert in the design or engineering of lift trucks; had never designed or consulted on a design of a lift truck; and had never designed a component part or a warning for a lift truck. Id. at 523. The proffered expert had neither operated nor seen a lift truck before the case. Id. Here, Mr. Hampton has extensive experience in accident reconstruction, which includes driver response time.

While Mr. Hampton's conclusion numbers 2, 3, and 4 fall within his area of expertise, his conclusion numbers 1 and 9 are problematic. Conclusion number 1 states: "Steven Reinhardt was inattentive as he approached Raymond Jones, " and conclusion number 9 states: "If Steven Reinhardt would have been attentive, he could have avoided this crash." These conclusions squarely address the ultimate issue of whether Mr. Reinhardt was negligent in driving his vehicle. "While such expert testimony is permissible, see Fed.R.Evid. 704(a), courts must guard against invading the province of the jury on a question which the jury was entirely capable of answering without the benefit of expert opinion." American Auto. Ins. Co. v. Omega Flex, Inc., 783 F.3d 720, 725 (8th Cir. 2015) (internal quotations omitted). Mr. Hampton has no first-hand knowledge that Mr. Reinhardt was inattentive as he approached plaintiff. He was not present at the time of the accident, and he certainly was not monitoring Mr. Reinhardt's actions prior to the accident. Mr. Hampton is drawing conclusions on the ultimate issue of fact. The Court will exclude Mr. Hampton's conclusion numbers 1 and 9 because they invade the province of the jury on questions that the jury is entirely capable of answering as the trier of fact.

B. Reliability

1. Mr. Hampton's Testimony Regarding Illumination and ...

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