United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge
Amir Okanovic (“Okanovic”) and his wife filed the
instant lawsuit following a tractor-trailer accident in the
parking lot of a truck stop. Trial is set to begin in
approximately one week. Defendants Robert Hayes
(“Hayes”) and USA Truck, Inc. (“USA
Truck”) (collectively, “defendants”) have
filed four motions in limine, (Docs. 19-22), seeking
to exclude certain evidence at trial. We will grant in part
and deny in part defendants' motions.
Factual Background & Procedural
relevant facts in this case are largely undisputed. The
tractor-trailer accident occurred at a truck stop in central
Pennsylvania on May 25, 2016. (Doc. 1 ¶ 1). At that
time, Okanovic, who resides in New York, was a self-employed
tractor-trailer operator. (Id. ¶ 8). Around
9:00 p.m., Okanovic was asleep in the “sleeper
berth” of his parked tractor trailer. (Id.
¶¶ 9-10). Hayes, who was working as a driver for
USA Truck, hit the rear portion of Okanovic's parked
vehicle. (Id. ¶ 12). Okanovic alleges that the
collision caused him to fall from the top bunk of his sleeper
berth onto the floor of his tractor trailer, resulting in
substantial, permanent injuries to his lower back.
(Id. ¶¶ 1, 13, 16, 24).
filed suit in May 2018, alleging negligence against Hayes and
USA Truck. The parties agree that the accident occurred and
that Hayes was negligent for hitting Okanovic's tractor
trailer. Defendants challenge causation-both cause-in-fact
and proximate cause-as well as the nature and extent of
Okanovic's damages. Trial is scheduled to begin on
November 12, 2019. Defendants filed four motions in
limine, which seek to exclude evidence that they believe
is irrelevant or unfairly prejudicial or does not meet the
requirements of Federal Rule of Evidence 702. The motions are
fully briefed and ripe for disposition.
admissibility challenges implicate two general categories:
(1) information regarding Okanovic's immigration history
and his pursuit of “the American dream, ” and (2)
the expert qualifications of Robert Nobilini, Ph.D.
(“Dr. Nobilini”). We will address these issues
Okanovic's Personal Background
personal history is equal parts tragedy and triumph. He was
born in Bosnia and fought on the front lines (for the losing
side) in that country's civil war. He and his family were
eventually forced out of Bosnia and became refugees, living
in refugee centers in Croatia for two years until they
immigrated to the United States in 1997. According to the
parties, Okanovic and his family were also subjected to
post-war internment, suffering through illness and
“unspeakable” living conditions, before
resettling in the United States. (See Doc. 19 at 2).
the family's relocation to this country, Okanovic rebuilt
his life “from scratch.” (Doc. 29 at 7). He
learned English and worked as a machine operator making
medical supplies. He attended trucking school in the morning
while continuing to work full-time as a second-shift
machinist, eventually earning his Commercial Driver's
License (“CDL”). Okanovic worked briefly for
several large trucking companies before starting his own
trucking business in 2005. From that time until the accident,
he was self-employed as an owner-operator.
Pre-Immigration Life and Immigration Status
seek to preclude any reference to Okanovic's
pre-immigration life and hardships, as well as to his
immigration status. They argue that such information is both
irrelevant and overly prejudicial.
is relevant when it tends to “make a fact more or less
probable than it would be without the evidence” and
that fact is consequential to the outcome of the case.
Fed.R.Evid. 401. Rule 401's definition of relevant
evidence is “very broad” and “does not
raise a high standard.” Moyer v. United Dominion
Indus., Inc., 473 F.3d 532, 544 (3d Cir. 2007) (citation
omitted). Even if evidence is relevant, it may still be
inadmissible if it is unduly prejudicial in comparison to its
probative value. Rule 403 provides that relevant evidence may
be excluded “if its probative value is
substantially outweighed by a danger of . . . unfair
prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue
delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative
evidence.” Fed.R.Evid. 403 (emphasis added).
agree with defendants that Okanovic's pre-immigration
hardships, while tragic, have little bearing on the issues
remaining for trial in this motor vehicle accident case.
Okanovic and his family members' difficult experiences in
internment camps and refugee settlements do not make any fact
regarding causation more or less probable, and their relation
to damages is tenuous. We find that any probative value of