Luther, Collier, Hodges & Cash, LLP – Attorneys at Law

Mississippi – Supreme Court Affirms Trial Court’s Decision to Exclude Expert Testimony

Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant and Plaintiff’s under-insured carrier  alleging that Defendant had negligently operated his motor vehicle while pulling a trailer in a gas-station parking lot, resulting in a collision in which she was injured.  A Harrison County jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendant and Plaintiff appealed, alleging that the trial court had abused its discretion by excluding her expert witness.

Prior to trial, Plaintiff filed expert disclosures designating Jason Walton as an accident-reconstruction expert.  Attached to the motion were Walton’s curriculum vitae and expert report, which included a review of the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department parking lot accident report, a photograph taken at the scene of the collision, photographs of both vehicles involved in the collision, Google Earth imagery of the collision area, and deposition testimony of Thompson and Holliman.

Defendant filed a motion in limine to strike Walton’s expert testimony, arguing the expert’s report did not provide calculations or data supporting his opinions.  The trial court  agreed and granted Defendant’s Motion to Strike, stating that “ an opinion of an expert “must be based on some scientific data with certain principals and methodology . . . . and the facts of the case at hand.”  The court found that (1) Walton’s use of a “typical” vehicle standard was inadequate;  (2) Walton’s report was not “the product of reliable principles and methods”; and (3) Walton was in “no better position than the trier of fact to conclude whether Defendant’s  actions were negligent”.   Plaintiff re-designated Walton and provided the court with an amended expert report.  In the amended report, Walton measured the average speed of vehicles at the collision site.  Defendant again moved to strike Walton’s testimony.   The trial court entered an order granting Defendant’s motion to strike.  A jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendant.

Plaintiff appealed the trial court’s decision to the Circuit Court of the Second Judicial District of Harrison County.  The Circuit Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court, stating that, “without a set of protocols for driving in a parking lot, an opinion as to fault or negligence would not have a basis.”  The Court also held that Walton’s methodology of “observing the speed of… vehicles in the gas pump bays and calculating an average speed fails to…give consideration to the tow load of Defendant’s truck.

Plaintiff appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court who found the trial court did not  abuse its discretion by excluding Walton as an expert witness.  The Supreme Court found that (1) accident reconstruction experts are permitted to give their opinions on “how an accident happened, the point of impact, the angle of travel, the responsibility of the parties involved or the interpretation of photographs. However, the trial judge has the discretion to determine the admissibility and reliability of that expert testimony.  The Supreme Court concluded that “although Walton was qualified and his testimony was relevant, the Judge, as gatekeeper, did not find his testimony sufficiently reliable.”  Affirmed.

Two Justices dissented, finding that the trial court abused its discretion because the expert met the requirements of the rules of evidence and would have provided “testimony regarding his timing and distance estimates, based on common mathematics,… assisting the trier of fact in making a full and informed decision against the backdrop of Defendant’s right to challenge and perhaps discredit the expert’s opinion.

Maria E. Thompson v. Dennis L. Holliman and Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company 2018-CA-01225-SCT


Exit mobile version