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Expert Excluded for Failure to Utilize Any Discernible Methodology

In Westfield Ins. v. Detroit Diesel Corp., 2012 WL 1611311 (W.D. Pa. May 8, 2012), a band’s tour bus caught fire while traveling down the turnpike. Plaintiff claimed that a defective engine (which had over 540,000 miles) and/or turbocharger caused the fire. Plaintiff’s origin and cause expert issued three separate reports regarding the cause of the fire. His first report was drafted after only “an initial and preliminary examination without the benefit of any removal of components or vehicle disassembly” and a telephone interview with the bus driver. He opined that the fire was caused by a failed turbocharger, but indicated that further examination was required to substantiate this opinion. He then issued a second report based on an examination and disassembly of the turbocharger and exhaust system.

In his second report, he simply stated that the evidence examination “further supported my initial and preliminary findings of a turbocharger failure being the cause of the fire.” In his third and final report, the expert observed punctures within the after turbo exhaust piping that protruded from the interior of the exhaust pipe through the exterior and excessive wear and disintegration of the impeller wheel. He opined that this disintegration was caused by excessive wear in the turbo charger and that these deficiencies can cause poor operating characteristics, overheating of the turbo charger and exhaust system, and escaping hot gases. “All or a combination of these could be the cause of the fire.”

Defendant challenged the admissibility of the expert’s testimony, arguing that his opinions were unreliable due to the lack of methodology. In analyzing the expert’s first report, the court noted that he did not explain what, if any, methodology he used in reaching his conclusions or what facts support it. Instead, he simply noted that it is based on an initial and preliminary examination and a telephone interview. His second report also made no mention of the methodology employed or factual support for his conclusions.

The court found that even his final report failed to describe any sort of methodology employed or how the engine deficiencies reportedly observed support his conclusion. Most importantly, he failed to perform any tests or cite to any reference materials to show the extent to which the engine could overheat or the quantity of gas that could escape as a result of these “deficiencies,” must less demonstrate that the deficiencies could actually cause the fire.

With no proffered methodology, there was no way to evaluate the expert’s opinions under the Daubert standards. The court found that the expert’s reports amounted to nothing more than a “series of unsubstantiated conclusory statements backed by no identifiable scientific methodology.” No support was provided other than the fact that he himself said it and “[s]uch ipse dixit is insufficient to satisfy Rule 702.”

The expert’s opinions were excluded as unreliable (without even so much as a Daubert hearing). And because plaintiff presented no expert testimony to support its claim that a defective engine and/or turbocharger caused the fire, the case was dismissed.

© Copyright 2020 Armstrong Teasdale LLP. All rights reserved National Law Review, Volume II, Number 284


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