Four expert testimonies allowed in Goodyear Dunlop Tires’ product liability case
The Alabama District Court recently reviewed four expert witness testimonies from various disciplines in the case of Henderson v. Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America, Ltd. and scheduled a pretrial Daubert hearing to rule upon the latter’s motion for summary judgment.
Details of the case
Plaintiffs William M. Henderson (driver) and Pamela Stafford (passenger) were involved in a motorcycle accident when Henderson lost control of the motorcycle because of “a sudden and catastrophic deflation” of the allegedly defective tire mounted on its rear end. Claiming Alabama Extended Manufacturers Liability Doctrine (AEMLD), negligence, wantonness, and breach of warranty, Plaintiffs asserted that manufacturing and design defects in the Goodyear tire on Henderson’s motorcycle caused the accident and Plaintiffs’ resulting injuries. After granting Defendant Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company’s motion for summary judgment, the Court now turned to the other Defendant, Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America LTD’s motion to exclude the testimonies of Plaintiffs’ experts Wayne McCracken, William Woehrle and David Herrick; and Plaintiffs’ motion to exclude the testimony of Defendant’s expert, Gary Bolden.
Expert challenge#1 – Plaintiffs’ accident reconstruction expert witness
Wayne McCracken was Plaintiffs’ accident reconstruction expert witness. He had an engineering degree from Duke University, held an American Motorcyclist Association racing license and raced motorcycles professionally for 5 years. He was also an active member of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) for over 20 years, and within that organization he was a member of the accident reconstruction subcommittee, regularly reviewing and approving articles which addressed side forces concerning “stiffness” of pneumatic tires that suffered from different failure modes. He had investigated over 2,000 motor vehicle wrecks, and reconstructed 400–500 accidents which resulted from tire failures.
Defendant objected to his testimony relating to the sufficiency of load-bearing capacity of the subject tire, and any testimony relating to the sufficiency of the information included in the Harley–Davidson Operator’s Manual. Testimony relating to maintaining control of a motorcycle in cases of sudden loss of air or air-out situations was also objected.
Expert challenge#2 – Plaintiffs’ tire expert witness
William Woehrle was Plaintiffs’ tire expert witness. He had a B.S. in Physics and worked for many years at Uniroyal, analyzing and testing tire failure for all manufacturing, research, and development company-wide.
Defendant contended that Woehrle was not qualified to testify as to design defects of the subject tire and that his opinions were not based on a reliable methodology – since Woehrle had never designed a tire, would not hire himself to design a tire, did not have an engineering degree, and was not considered a design engineer by Uniroyal, the tire manufacturing company that employed him. They sought to bolster their argument by a recent Tenth Circuit judgment that affirmed a district court’s exclusion of Woehrle’s testimony in a similar case (Ho v. Michelin N. Am., Inc.).
Expert challenge#3 – Plaintiffs’ medical expert witness
Dr. David Herrick, Plaintiffs’ medical expert witness, was a medical physician with board certification in pain management and anesthesiology. He was of the opinion that Henderson was permanently disabled and unable to work due to the level of pain and medication he had to constantly receive as a result of the injuries he received in the motorcycle accident.
Defendant argued that Dr. Herrick’s opinions were based upon hearsay statements and hence unreliable under Rule 702, Daubert and its progeny.
Expert challenge#4 – Defendant’s engineering expert witness
Gary Bolden, Defendant’s engineering expert witness, was a civil engineer with 44 years of tire design and manufacturing experience and had performed forensic tire failure analysis for more than 35 years, including on numerous bias ply constructed tires like the subject tire in this case. He had also published multiple peer reviewed research articles on forensic tire failure analysis, including on the same principles he employed in reaching his opinions regarding the subject tire in this case.
However, Plaintiffs took issue with the fact that Bolden was not an expert specifically in motorcycle tires, alleging that this lack of experience made him unqualified to testify in this case. Plaintiffs also argued that Bolden’s experience was not sufficient to establish admissibility and his opinion was unreliable under Rule 702 and Daubert.
Decision of the Court
The Court denied ALL motions, and maintained all experts were qualified to testify in this case.
The Court held that McCracken’s opinions were formulated in a scientifically and methodologically reliable fashion. The Defendant’s motion to exclude certain opinion testimony by McCracken was held as moot as it pertained to the opinions withdrawn by Plaintiffs, and was denied as to the remaining opinions.
Defendant’s reliance on the Tenth Circuit judgment was held to be misplaced since there was a distinction in the facts. Woehrle was held sufficiently qualified to testify in the instant case as he had extensive knowledge and experience in the field.
Dr. Herrick’s reliance on other doctors’ medical records and his patient’s own statements was held to be perfectly valid being the type of evidence contemplated under Rule 703, which specifically explain that a physician may rely on a wide range of sources in forming medical opinions, including facts that the doctor learns “other than by his own perception”. Further, the Court held that it would address appropriate objections at trial regarding the issue of Dr. Herrick’s testimony being cumulative.
As for Bolden, the Court observed that “an expert’s training does not always need to be narrowly tailored to match the exact point of dispute in a case” and Bolden possessed the requisite experience to offer his opinions.
Because the Defendant’s summary judgment motion hinged solely on the exclusion of Woehrle’s expert testimony, further analysis was deemed necessary after a Daubert hearing.
**Written for the web by the EWG Editorial Team