Is EXPERT Testimony Always Admissible?

Post car crash testing by an “Expert witness” must take into account all of the relevant variables & aspects of the scene to pass muster in trial court

Just because a witness is an expert, does not mean that their testimony is admissible in a car crash case. Testimony, like evidence, must be “relevant” to the trial, or a trial judge can keep it out. There are limits to what a jury may hear in an accident and injury case.

“My father, Norman Landau, once told me that, ‘an expert is someone who knows everything about nothing,'” recounts Doug Landau. (In other words, they know a lot about a very small area of inquiry.) In many cases, competent expert testimony can help explain an area of technology, science, medicine or other arcane subject matter. However, if the subject matter is generally known, a trial judge can exclude expert testimony. In Virginia, the court can also keep out testimony that goes to the ultimate question in the case; the one the jury is supposed to decide after hearing all of the testimony and viewing all of the evidence received.

Doug Landau notes that the Virginia Supreme Court made an interesting ruling in a product liability case. The basis of such a case is that a product either failed to do what it was supposed to do, or that it performed in an unintended or unanticipated manner. In the case of Duncan vs. Hyundai Motor Co., a car driver was severely injured when he lost control of his automobile and struck a tree. Despite being equipped with a side airbag, the system did not deploy. At the trial court, the jury found in favor of the injured victim. The Supreme Court of Virginia overturned the Circuit Court’s judgment. The high court ruled that the trial court had committed reversible error in admitting the testimony of the injured driver’s expert witness. Such evidentiary matters are generally within the discretion of the trial judge. When Doug Landau helps train new trial judges, this discretion to allow certain kinds of evidence requires experienced instructors to make sure jurists in training are getting it right.

However, in this case, the appellate court found that the trial court had no discretion to admit clearly inadmissible evidence. The Virginia Supreme Court noted that expert testimony founded on assumptions that have no basis in fact are not able to be corrected by cross-examination or by opposing experts (in a “battle of experts”). Such testimony is inadmissible and a Motion by the lawyer objecting to the testimony should be granted.

According to the Supreme Court of Virginia, expert testimony is inadmissible if the expert fails to consider all of the relevant variable bearing upon the inferences to be deduced from the facts observed. Just like a medical doctor must be aware of the relevant pre-injury medical history, other litigation experts must have reviewed the types of information other experts in their field would have looked at before coming to their conclusions. In the Duncan case, the Supreme Court found that the offered testimony was inadmissible because the expert’s opinion was premised on the unfounded assumption that the side airbag would have deployed if the sensor had been located on the B-pillar of the car instead of on a cross-member underneath the driver’s seat. The appellate court explained that the expert had admitted that the car’s crash-sensing system depended on multiple factors and that he had not performed any tests to determine whether a different combination of factors would have caused the airbag to deploy and protect the driver from the impact.

The case stands for the proposition that an expert witness must test variations of the elements of a complex product, which are claimed to render the product defective in design. Lawyer Landau adds, “This sometimes requires an expert in a car crash case to recreate the scene and the circumstances, conduct ‘destructive testing,’ and experiment with variables of speed, momentum, angles and surfaces.”

“Our unique law firm has even purchased the same or similar products to try them out BEFORE trial. This is another reason why product liability cases can be very expensive to properly prepare for trial by jury,” notes Doug Landau of the Herndon injury law firm ABRAMS LANDAU, Ltd. If you or someone you know or care for has been injured in a car crash, truck accident or other type of motor vehicle collision, and there are questions about what laws apply, e-mail or call us at ABRAMS LANDAU, Ltd. (703-796-9555) at once.