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United States District Court finds Defense Expert’s Testimony Inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 702
Ruark v. BMW of N. Am., LLC
In Ruark v. BMW of North America, LLC, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland held that expert testimony in support of defendant automobile manufacturers was inadmissible under FED. R. EVID. 702 and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., 509 U.S. 570 (1993). The Court held that the defendants’ expert failed to premise his opinion on any particular skill, expertise, experience, knowledge, or training as is required under FED. R. EVID. 702; rather, his conclusions were based solely on general observation. Therefore, writing for Court, Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander granted the plaintiff’s motion to exclude those parts of the defense expert’s testimony that relied solely on personal observation.
On July 30, 2006, Darin Ruark (“Plaintiff”) was in a single-vehicle accident. Seventeen (17) years old at the time, Plaintiff suffered a catastrophic neck injury when the vehicle in which he was riding, a 1995 BMW 325is coupe, experienced a rollover. Plaintiff was sitting in the front passenger seat of the vehicle. Despite wearing his seatbelt, Plaintiff’s head struck the roof of the vehicle when the vehicle’s roof collapsed in the rollover, fracturing Plaintiff’s cervical spine. Plaintiff was rendered a quadriplegic. Plaintiff filed suit against the vehicle’s distributor, BMW of North America, LLC, and the vehicle’s manufacturer, BMW AG (collectively, “Defendants”). Plaintiff alleged that the vehicle was defective and unreasonably dangerous, that he was injured as a result of the vehicle’s roof intruding into the passenger compartment during the rollover.
Both Plaintiff and Defendants tendered experts in this case. One (1) of Plaintiff’s experts, Stephen Batzer, M.D., testified regarding alternative designs for the vehicle’s support pillars, which would have allegedly strengthened the roof and prevented it from collapsing. In particular, Dr. Batzer testified that, had Defendants integrated the A-pillar design implemented on the 1995 3 Series convertibles, the roof of Plaintiff’s vehicle would not have collapsed to the degree that it did. Defendants moved to exclude Dr. Batzer’s testimony under FED. R. EVID. 702, arguing that Dr. Batzer’s conclusions were irrelevant; Defendants maintained that Plaintiff’s injuries occurred before the vehicle’s roof intruded into the passenger compartment of the vehicle. In support of their argument, Defendants provided evidence that Plaintiff’s injuries were due to torso augmentation, rather than the roof collapsing. In essence, Defendants argued that Plaintiff had already sustained his spinal injury by the time his head came in contact with the roof.
Similarly, Plaintiff moved to exclude the testimony of one (1) of Defendants’ experts, Robert Banks, M.D. According to Dr. Banks, the evidence supported Defendants’ torso augmentation theory, and the proposition that Plaintiff’s injuries were not caused by any defect in the strength of the vehicle’s roof. Plaintiff moved to exclude a portion of Dr. Banks’ testimony that relied upon Dr. Bank’s analysis of two (2) scuffmarks on the vehicle’s passenger-side headrail. According to Dr. Banks, these marks matched a hat that Dr. Banks found in the vehicle; he reached this conclusion by holding the hat to the marks and noting the pattern on the hat and the button on the top of the hat which lined up with the scuffmarks on the headrail. Dr. Banks concluded that Plaintiff’s head was in contact with the headrail at the time of the first rollover, which supported the Defendants’ torso augmentation theory.
The District Court denied Defendants’ Motion to Cxclude Dr. Batzer. The Court looked to FED. R. EVID. 702 and the Supreme Court’s decision in Daubert for guidance, taking note of the Court’s duty to act as the “gatekeeper” of expert testimony. With respect to Plaintiff’s motion, the Court held that “BMW [had] not adequately challenged Dr. Batzer’s methods or conclusions about the roof strength . . . . Rather it has questioned whether those conclusions are persuasive evidence that the allegedly defective roof contributed to Mr. Ruark’s injuries.” Ruark v. BMW of N. Am., LLC, No. 09-2738, slip op. at 15 (D. Md. Jan. 30, 2014). The Court held that this was a question for the jury, and not appropriate at the Daubert stage. Therefore, it denied Defendants’ motion.
Conversely, the Court granted Plaintiff’s motion, and excluded Dr. Banks was excluded from offering any opinion as to whether the scuff marks on the headrail of the vehicle were made by Plaintiff’s hat. The Court found that “BMW’s argument boil[ed] down to its belief that the match between the scuff marks and the hat was apparent from simple observation” rather than any particular expertise possessed by Dr. Banks. Id. at 22. Dr. Banks’ opinion that the scuff marks resulted from Plaintiff’s hat was not supported by any special skill or knowledge as is required under FED. R. EVID. 702. Any expert testimony on that conclusion was, therefore, excluded under the Rule.
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