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Seamans v. Tremontana

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 3, 2014

SANDRA AND FRED SEAMANS, Plaintiffs,
v.
ANDREW B. TREMONTANA, et. al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM[1]

MALACHY E. MANNION, District Judge.

This case involves an accident between Sandra and Fred Seamans and Andrew Tramontana that occurred on Interstate 81. The accident left both plaintiffs with various injuries which are the subject of this suit. The central dispute is whether Mr. Tremontana was driving negligently and caused the accident. Presently, the case is scheduled for trial starting on September 8, 2014.

The parties have filed two motions in limine with regard to evidence they wish to exclude during trial. The plaintiffs seeks to exclude evidence of subsequent diagnosis and treatment for lesions on Mrs. Seamans's liver. They claim any evidence of this after-acquired condition is irrelevant to the case at hand. The court agrees and that motion will be GRANTED. The defendants seek to exclude proposed expert testimony of a crash reconstructionist. They argue that the expert's testimony fails to meet the Daubert standard and usurps the role of the jury by placing the blame for the accident on Mr. Tremontana. The expert testimony meets the Daubert standard and does not interfere with the fact-finding role of the jury. The defendants' motion will be DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

This case arises out of a car accident where the plaintiffs were rear-ended by Mr. Tramontana's 2010 Ford Explorer. (Doc. No. 1, ¶18). Mr. Tramontana was working for Defendant Universal Technical Institute of Arizona, Inc. (Universal) at the time of the incident. On July 7, 2011 Mr. Tramontana was driving south on Interstate 81 in New Milford, Pennsylvania. (Id., ¶16). The plaintiffs were driving their 2004 Mazda Tribute and merged onto the highway using the New Milford on-ramp just in front of Mr. Tremontana. (Id., ¶17).

A box truck in front of Mr. Tremontana swerved to avoid hitting the Seamans's car, but Mr. Tremontana was unable to avoid them. His Explorer then slammed into the rear of the plaintiffs' car, causing it to spin out, finally coming to rest off the road to the right of the highway. (Id., ¶18). Both plaintiffs suffered various injuries from the accident that require ongoing treatment. (Doc. No. 1).

Three years after the accident occurred, Mrs. Seamans underwent an MRI that revealed two hepatic lesions on her liver. (Doc. 47). Those lesions have been treated at a local radiation oncology center. The defendants' medical expert does not make any mention of that treatment in his report or connect that diagnosis to any of her injuries allegedly originating from the accident at issue. (Id.). Her claims for damages in this case stem from various physical injuries including a concussion, visual migraines, pains in her neck, back, legs, shoulders, upper arms, and buttocks, and also fibromyalgia. (Doc. 1).

As this case proceeded toward trial, the plaintiffs commissioned a report from Frank Costanzo, a senior accident reconstructionist with Accident Cause & Analysis, LLC. (Doc. 51, Att. 1). In his report, Mr. Costanzo concludes that Mr. Tremontana was driving too close to the box truck in front of him, was unable to stop given his speed and the spacing, had sufficient time to change lanes prior to the accident, and would have had a clear line of sight had he not been too close to the box truck in front of him or had changed lanes. He based these conclusions on his inspection of the scene of the crash, the depositions of the plaintiffs and Mr. Tremontana, the police reports, the photographs of the cars, his observations of the location of the accident, and several calculations taking into account speed and road conditions. His conclusions required him to determine how long it would take Mr. Tremontana to stop, how long it would take him to change lanes, and how his line of sight was limited based on how close he was to the car in front of him. (Id., p. 11-13). In sum, he found that Mr. Tremontana's driving was the cause of the accident.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This case was commenced on March 15, 2013, when the plaintiffs filed a complaint against the defendants. (Doc. No. 1). After various claims and parties were dismissed and dispositive motions were completed, the case was set for trial on September 8, 2014. (Doc. 35). In anticipation of trial, the defendants filed a motion in limine and brief in support to strike the plaintiff's crash reconstructionist's expert report. (Doc. 45, 46). The plaintiffs filed their brief in opposition one week later. (Doc. 50, 51). The plaintiffs also filed a motion in limine and brief in support to exclude any evidence regarding Mrs. Seamens's diagnosis and treatment for lesions on her liver. (Doc. 47; Doc. 48). The defendants have not filed a brief in opposition and have informed the court that they do not oppose the motion.[2] The motions are now ripe for the court's decision.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The plaintiff's motion presently at issue seeks to exclude evidence of the plaintiff's diagnosis and treatment for lesions on her liver as irrelevant. It is axiomatic that "irrelevant evidence is not admissible." Fed.R.Evid. 402. Evidence is relevant if "it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence" and if "the fact is of consequence in determining the action." Fed.R.Evid. 401. Even if evidence is relevant, the court can exclude it if "its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence." Fed.R.Evid. 403.

The defendants' motion seeks to exclude expert testimony from an accident reconstructionist who would testify as an expert at trial. The admissibility of expert testimony is governed by Federal Rule of Evidence 702, which requires an expert witness to have "specialized knowledge" regarding the area of testimony. The Third Circuit has explained, "The basis of this specialized knowledge can be practical experience as well as academic training and credentials, " and "[w]e have interpreted the specialized knowledge requirement liberally." Betterbox Commc'ns Ltd. v. BB Techs., Inc. , 300 F.3d 325, 327-28 (3d Cir. 2002) (internal citations omitted). The Federal Rules of Evidence embody a strong preference for admitting any evidence that may assist the trier of fact. Id . Moreover, Rule 702 "has a liberal policy of admissibility." Kannankeril v. Terminix Int'l, Inc. , 128 F.3d 802, 806 (3d Cir.1997).

When faced with a proffer of expert testimony, the court must determine "whether the expert is proposing to testify to (1) scientific knowledge that (2) will assist the trier of fact to understand or determine a fact in issue." Daubert, 509 U.S., at 592. The Daubert court held that the Federal Rules of Evidence "assign to the trial judge the task of ensuring that an expert's testimony both rests on a reliable foundation and is relevant to the task at hand." Id., at 597. The test of reliability is "flexible, " and Daubert 's list of specific factors - testing, peer review, error rates, and "acceptability" in the relevant ...


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