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Trinidad v. Moore

Area of Law:

Torts. This case arose out of an accident involving a tractor-trailer operated by Defendant Daniel Joe Moore.

Grounds:

Defendants challenged the admissibility of opinions provided by Jon P. Dillard, plaintiff's expert on the standard of care in the tractor-trailer industry, on the grounds that they constituted legal conclusions, that he was not qualified to serve as an expert, and that his opinions were not reliable and not relevant.

Outcome:

Granted in part, denied in part.

Analysis:

The court found Mr. Dillard qualified. His CV and deposition testimony showed that he had been formally trained and gained extensive knowledge and familiarity with the safe practices applicable to commercial motor vehicles, in addition to his experience in the development and implementation of effective safety management controls. The court stated that Defendants’ argument rested on the assumption that Mr. Dillard could not opine about general tractor-trailer safety standards because he had never been employed as a tractor-trailer driver. The court explained that an expert, unlike a fact witness, is permitted to offer opinions that are not based on his firsthand knowledge or observation.

The court also held that Mr. Dillard’s methodology was sufficiently reliable. Mr. Dillard’s testimony was based upon personal knowledge and experience, as he had years of experience of training drivers on proper operation of commercial vehicles and companies on proper management of commercial drivers, and he should be allowed to testify to that extent. The court rejected Defendants’ argument that the expert’s testimony was based on insufficient facts or data or wrong understanding of facts. The court found that while Mr. Dillard may not testify as to the truth of the facts, he should be permitted to provide an opinion based on a particular version of disputed facts.

The court excluded several of Mr. Dillard’s opinions as not helpful to the jury. The court held that his opinion that Defendants failed to conduct a post-accident investigation did not make the existence of any fact of consequence to the determination of the action more or less probable. Because it did not appear that post-accident actions could have contributed to the accident itself, this opinion was irrelevant. The court also excluded Mr. Dillard’s opinion that Defendants failed to screen for Mr. Moore’s medical condition before allowing him to operate the vehicle. There was no evidence that Moore’s medical condition was a factor in the wreck.

Finally, the court excluded several of Mr. Dillard’s opinions as impermissible legal conclusions. “To understand where admissible expert opinion in the form of a factual inference crosses the line to inadmissible legal conclusion, courts look to see if the jury is capable of drawing the conclusion itself or if technical assistance is needed.” Slip Op. at 8. The court excluded the following opinions: that Defendant failed to ensure that Mr. Moore was qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle according to federal and state adopted regulations; that Defendant violated FMCSRs; that “[a]s the authorized motor carrier, DRB failed to properly train Mr. Moore regarding applicable accident prevention guidelines,” which were not identified; and that “[t]his accident would be classified as a preventable accident.”