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Estate of Arama v. Winfield

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

May 11, 2017

THE ESTATE OF JOHN ARAMA, Deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
BRYANT WINFIELD and P.B. INDUSTRIES, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JON E. DEGUILIO JUDGE.

         This is a tort case in which Plaintiff, The Estate of John Arama (“Arama”), asserts a claim for negligence against Defendants Bryant Winfield and his employer, P.B. Industries, Inc. On June 17, 2013, at approximately 3:55 a.m., Arama was operating a motorcycle eastbound on Interstate 80 near Gary, Indiana. For unknown reasons, Arama became separated from his motorcycle and landed in one of the lanes of travel. Shortly after this, a semi-truck driven by Winfield came upon the scene and hit Arama, who incurred fatal injuries as a result of the collision.

         Now before the Court are motions filed by each party seeking to strike testimony of the opposing party's expert witnesses [DE 40, 42, 45].[1] The motions are fully briefed and ripe for ruling. The parties are DIRECTED to read the entirety of the order with respect to the limitations imposed on the testimony of each expert witness.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal Rule of Evidence 702 governs the admission of testimony by expert witnesses. Under Rule 702, “[a] witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise” if the following criteria are met:

(a) the expert's scientific, technical, or specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

Fed. R. Evid. 702. Rule 702, as a conjunctive test, requires all four criteria be met.

         In Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., the Supreme Court emphasized the court's “gatekeeping” role in ensuring that expert testimony meets the criteria set forth in Rule 702. 509 U.S. 579 (1993). Thus, the court must ensure that any expert testimony admitted is “not only relevant, but reliable.” Id. at 589. A court, however, does not evaluate “the ultimate correctness of the expert's conclusions.” C.W. ex rel. Wood v. Textron, Inc., 807 F.3d 827, 834 (quoting Shultz v. Akzo Nobel Paints, LLC, 721 F.3d 426, 431 (7th Cir. 2013)). Rather, a court is required to consider only the “principles and methodology, ” not the conclusions generated. Shultz, 721 F.3d at 432 (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S. at 595). “So long as the principles and methodology reflect reliable scientific practice, ‘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.'” Id. (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S. at 596).

         II. DISCUSSION

         Each party has retained two expert witnesses to offer opinions that relate to the issue of liability in this case-that is, whether Winfield could or should have avoided hitting Arama. Central to the dispute is Winfield's versions of the accident. When deposed, [2] Winfield indicated that he saw a dark object (possibly a tire tread) beyond his headlights and he slowed his vehicle to 20 miles an hour. He further indicated that once his headlights hit the object, he could tell it was a person, but he also stated that it wasn't until a truck in front of him switched lanes when he realized that the object (now 20 to 30 feet away) was a person. Winfield's statement to police taken immediately after the accident reveals no reference to another vehicle being in front of him thereby blocking his view [DE 53-6 at 8].

         The Court now addresses Plaintiff's objections to Defendants' experts, and then addresses Defendants' objections to Plaintiff's experts.

         A. OBJECTIONS TO DEFENDANTS' EXPERT WITNESSES

         Plaintiff claims that Defendants' expert witness reports are not founded on sufficient data, nor are the experts' conclusions the product of reliable principles and methods. Plaintiff argues that both experts merely parrot the statements of Winfield and others without applying any scientific methodology to the statements.

         1. G. Stanley Sangdahl, P.E.

         Mr. G. Stanley Sangdahl (“Sangdahl”) holds a Bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and is a licensed professional engineer in Illinois [DE 40-1 at 10]. He is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Traffic Accident Reconstruction and has engaged in continuing education in the field of accident reconstruction. Id. at 12-13. Given his extensive education and experience, Plaintiff does not question whether Sangdahl is qualified to give opinions regarding the dynamics of the vehicular accident. For this reason, the Court considers Plaintiff's sole argument concerning whether Sangdahl's opinions employ scientific expertise so as to be helpful to the jury.

         Sangdahl's investigative report indicates that after reviewing various materials and personally inspecting only Arama's motorcycle in 2015 [DE 40-1 at 3-4], he arrived at five conclusions, as follows:

1. John Arama became separated from his Roadhawk trike, likely from contact with an unidentified vehicle, and came to rest in the second lane from the right on eastbound Interstate 80/94. He was dressed in black leather pants and jacket.
2. As Bryant Winfield approached the area where John Arama lay, his initial view of the road ahead was blocked by another tractor semi-trailer rig. Additionally, there were other vehicles on either side preventing him moving to another lane of travel. When these and other surrounding vehicles ahead of Mr. Winfield began to slow, he slowed his truck to match their speed but would have initially lost his safe following distance.
3. Mr. Winfield was unaware of the presence of Arama until the tractor semi-trailer unit ahead of Mr. Winfield moved to another lane. Because of the traffic conditions Mr. Winfield could not avoid contact with John Arama.
4. None of the safety violations found by the Indiana State Police Commercial Vehicle Inspection of Bryant Winfield's tractor semi-trailer rig were a factor in this accident. The notes violations were strictly compliance issues and would not have any significant impact on performance.
a) There is no evidence that Mr. Winfield was fatigued or distracted during the time prior to the accident.
b) The issues with the high beam headlights, hazard lights and turn signal are moot since none of these lights were in use at the time of the incident.
c) The inoperative brake on the trailer would have reduced the braking capability by less than 10% which is equivalent to approximately 2 feet of additional stopping distance at 20 mph in an emergency. Normal braking would not have been noticeably effected (sic) at all.
d) The small air leak in the fitting at the left front brake would not have any negative impact on braking. The brake stroke ...

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