Massachusetts Federal District Court precludes manufacture and design defect and causation testimony from plaintiff’s expert and grants summary judgment where expert’s only training and experience were in accident reconstruction

In Morse v. Ford Motor Co., 2010 WL 2733607 (D. Mass. July 9, 2010), plaintiff, a passenger in her husband’s automobile, was injured when he lost control of the car and struck the guardrail. Plaintiff sued the car’s manufacturer in the United 3 States District Court for the District of Massachusetts alleging negligence, breach of the implied warranty of merchantability (the Massachusetts near-equivalent of strict liability) and violation of Mass. Gen. L. ch. 93A (the Massachusetts unfair and deceptive practices statute). In support of her claims, plaintiff offered the opinion of a single expert to testify that the accident was caused by a defective tie rod assembly in the wheel and that the failure of the passenger-side air bag to deploy aggravated plaintiff’s injuries. Defendant moved to disqualify the expert and for summary judgment.

The court granted defendant’s motions, finding the expert unqualified to offer opinions as to manufacture and design defects of the car or the cause of plaintiff’s injuries. The court first noted the two fundamental criteria for admission of expert testimony under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993): (1) the expert must be sufficiently qualified by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education; and (2) the expert’s testimony must be relevant, reliable and helpful to the fact-finder. As to the first requirement, the court found plaintiff’s expert unqualified. Although by his own description he had substantial experience in accident reconstruction as a Registry of Motor Vehicles employee and had testified as an expert in hundreds of cases in Massachusetts, he did not have even a college degree and had no education or experience in the area of safety or mechanical engineering or the design and manufacture of automobiles. Similarly, his expert testimony in prior cases had involved only accident reconstruction and never safety engineering or product liability. In addition, the court found that the expert’s opinions were not reliable as he had no knowledge regarding the design of the vehicle’s airbag system and he had not reviewed any Ford engineering or manufacturing documents, design specifications or an exemplar tie rod assembly. Because the disqualified expert was the only expert identified by plaintiff, the court granted summary judgment for the defendant.