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In Re: General Motors LLC Ignition Switch Litigation

Area of Law:

Product Liability. This case arose out of a car accident. Plaintiff alleged that her injuries were enhanced because the airbags failed to deploy.

Grounds:

1) Plaintiff sought to preclude the testimony of Defendant’s toxicology and biomechanics experts on Plaintiff’s alcohol-related impairment on the ground that it was not corroborated. Further, Plaintiff objected to the biomechanics expert’s qualifications and her opinion being cumulative. Finally, plaintiff objected to toxicology expert’s opinion on the ground of relevancy. 2) Defendant sought to preclude the testimony of Plaintiff’s toxicology expert as unreliable. 3) Each party sought to preclude the testimony of other side’s technical experts as unreliable and irrelevant.

Outcome:

Granted in part, denied in part.

Analysis:

McCutcheon/Raphael opinions

The court refused to preclude the testimony by GM experts, Mr. McCutcheon (toxicology) and Ms. Raphael (biomechanics), concluding that Plaintiff was impaired by alcohol at the time of the accident, as their opinions relied on scientific literature and did not need to be separately corroborated to be admissible. Slip op. at 9-10. Any arguable weaknesses in the testimony went to the weight, not the admissibility, of their opinions. The court further rejected Plaintiff’s objections to the testimony of Raphael (an emergency room physician) on the basis of her qualifications. Raphael did not need to be a toxicologist because she was entitled to rely on McCutcheon’s opinions. The court declined to rule whether Raphael’s opinions are cumulative until trial. Id. Lastly, the court denied Plaintiff’s objections to McCutcheon’s testimony that the inability to detect the smell of alcohol was not proof that Plaintiff had not consumed alcohol. The court also allowed McCutcheon to discuss studies that supported conclusions about varying detectability of different alcohol’s odors. Id. at 10-11.

Fuller opinions

The court refused to preclude the testimony by Plaintiff’s expert, Dwain Fuller (toxicology) that the blood alcohol test could have produced a false positive (e.g., resulting from alcohol-swab contamination), because although the literature on that subject was not robust, there had been reported instances of false positives, and Plaintiff was entitled to share that with the jury. Slip op. at 11-12.

The court, however, precluded Mr. Fuller from speculating that potential reasons of false positives of the blood alcohol test are linked to alcohol-swab contamination, “as he offers literally no data to support that conclusion.” Slip op. at 11-12. No single instance of false positive had been linked to alcohol-swab contamination and the report cited by Mr. Fuller had no statistically significant findings on differences between alcoholic and non-alcoholic cleaning solutions. Id. The court also precluded Mr. Fuller’s from testifying that it is more likely than not that Plaintiff’s alcohol reading was the result of false positive as no evidence suggested that Plaintiff consumed alcohol before her accident. Id. The court held that this was an issue of the credibility of Plaintiff and other witnesses at trial, which is the province of the jury, not expert testimony. Id.

Caruso opinions

The court declined to preclude the testimony of Plaintiff’s expert Mr. Caruso related to delta-v (i.e. acceleration), concluding that the airbag in Plaintiff’s vehicle should have deployed. Slip op. at 15-16. Although to the extent that Mr. Caruso’s testimony is based merely on “eyeballing” photos of Plaintiff’s car, it may have been suspect, the court refused to strike it because Caruso was not Plaintiff’s expert on the delta-v issue and could rely on the delta-v expert’s conclusions when testifying on air bag deployment. Id.

Loudon opinions

The court declined to preclude the testimony of Mr. Loudon, Plaintiff’s expert, regarding electronic stability control (ESC) and anti-lock braking (ABS), because the importance of the ignition switch to the safety of GM vehicles was relevant in this case, and there was no reason to categorically exclude Mr. Loudon from providing some (albeit limited) testimony concerning the connections between the ignition switch and both ESC and ABS. Slip op. at 17-18.

Tandy opinions

The court precluded the testimony of Defendant’s expert Mr. Tandy relating to a videotape he created which was effectively a recreation of Plaintiff’s accident. Slip op. at 18-19. The court noted that the videotaped test occurred in controlled conditions, on a test track with a driver expecting the occurrence and as such was not substantially similar enough to the crash. Id. at 20.

Rucoba opinions

The court precluded the testimony of Defendant’s expert Mr. Rucoba because it was related exclusively to the Yingling case, another (but settled) bellwether case. Slip op at 20-21. Rucoba’s report included facts, materials, and opinions/conclusions specific to Yingling, and the court held they were plainly irrelevant to the present case.