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White v. Deere & Co.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

February 8, 2016

MIRIAM WHITE, Plaintiff,
v.
DEERE & COMPANY, JOHN DEERE LIMITED, and JOHN DOES 1-5, Defendants.

ORDER

PHILIP A. BRIMMER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

This matter is before the Court on defendants’ Motion to Exclude Randall Benson’s Opinions Derived from Neuroimaging [Docket No. 103].

I. BACKGROUND

This is a products liability action that arises out of an accident that occurred on August 17, 2011 while plaintiff Miriam White was operating her Deere Model 4600 compact utility tractor and Model 460 loader. Ms. White claims that she suffered facial injuries and traumatic brain injury (“TBI”) as a result of a hay bale falling onto her head while she was operating the tractor. Docket No. 103 at 1. Ms. White alleges that her tractor had design defects that created an unreasonable risk of injury from falling hay bales and that her injuries resulted from these defects. Docket No. 150 at 2-3.

Ms. White has designated Randall Benson, a board-certified neurologist, as a medical expert. Docket No. 103 at 1. Dr. Benson opines that Ms. W hite suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of the August 17, 2011 incident. Docket No. 116-3 at 18. He bases his opinion, in part, on results derived from a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (“MRI”) sequence called diffusion tensor imaging (“DTI”). Id. at 20-21. Defendants move to exclude Dr. Benson’s DTI findings on two grounds. First, defendants argue that Dr. Benson’s DTI findings are unreliable. Docket No. 103 at 3. Second, defendants argue that Dr. Benson’s DTI findings will not assist the trier of fact to determine whether Ms. White’s alleged brain injuries were caused by the August 17, 2011 accident. Id. at 4.

II. FEDERAL RULE OF EVIDENCE 702

Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence provides that:

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if: (a) the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue; (b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data; (c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and (d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

Fed. R. Evid. 702. As the rule makes clear, while required, it is not sufficient that an expert be qualified based upon knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education to give opinions in a particular subject area. Rather, the Court must “perform[] a two-step analysis.” 103 Investors I, L.P. v. Square D Co., 470 F.3d 985, 990 (10th Cir. 2006). After determining whether the expert is qualified, the specific proffered opinions must be assessed for reliability. See id.; Fed.R.Evid. 702 (requiring that the testimony be “based on sufficient facts or data, ” be the “product of reliable principles and methods, ” and reflect a reliable application of “the principles and methods to the facts of the case”).

Rule 702 imposes on the district court a “gatekeeper function to ‘ensure that any and all scientific testimony or evidence admitted is not only relevant, but reliable.’” United States v. Gabaldon, 389 F.3d 1090, 1098 (10th Cir. 2004) (quoting Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 589 (1993)). To perform that function, the Court must “assess the reasoning and methodology underlying the expert’s opinion, and determine whether it is both scientifically valid and applicable to a particular set of facts.” Dodge v. Cotter Corp., 328 F.3d 1212, 1221 (10th Cir. 2003) (citing Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592-93). Where an expert relies on experience, the expert “‘must explain how that experience leads to the conclusion reached, why that experience is a sufficient basis for the opinion, and how that experience is reliably applied to the facts.’” United States v. Medina-Copete, 757 F.3d 1092, 1104 (10th Cir. 2014) (quoting Fed.R.Evid. 702, advisory committee notes).

Although it is not always a straightforward exercise to disaggregate an expert’s method and conclusion, when the conclusion simply does not follow from the data, a district court is free to determine that an impermissible analytical gap exists between premises and conclusion. Gen. Elec. Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136, 146 (1997). In examining an expert’s method, however, the inquiry should not be aimed at the “exhaustive search for cosmic understanding but for the particularized resolution of legal disputes.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 597. It is the specific relationship between an expert’s method, the proffered conclusions, and the particular factual circumstances of the dispute that renders testimony both reliable and relevant.

In addition to the expert having appropriate qualifications and methods, the proponent of the expert’s opinions must demonstrate that the process by which the expert derived his or her opinions is reliable. United States v. Crabbe, 556 F.Supp.2d 1217, 1220 (D. Colo. 2008). When assessing reliability, “the court may consider several nondispositive factors: (1) whether the proffered theory can and has been tested; (2) whether the theory has been subject to peer review; (3) the known or potential rate of error; and (4) the general acceptance of a methodology in the relevant scientific community.” 103 Investors I, 470 F.3d at 990 (citing Daubert, 509 U.S. at 593-94). These considerations are not exhaustive. Rather, “the trial judge must have considerable leeway in deciding in a particular case how to go about determining whether particular expert testimony is reliable.” Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 152 (1999). Ultimately, the test requires that the expert “employs in the courtroom the same level of intellectual rigor that characterizes the practice of an expert in the relevant field.” Id.

While plaintiff, as the proponent of the challenged testimony, has the burden of establishing admissibility, the proffer is tested against the standard of reliability, not correctness; she need only prove that “the witness has sufficient expertise to choose and apply a methodology, that the methodology applied was reliable, that sufficient facts and data as required by the methodology were used and that the methodology was otherwise reliably applied.” Crabbe, 556 F.Supp.2d at 1221.

Once the standard of reliability “is met, the court will still consider other nonexclusive factors to determine whether the testimony will assist the trier of fact: (1) whether the testimony is relevant; (2) whether it is within the juror’s common knowledge and experience; and (3) whether it will usurp the juror’s role of evaluating a ...


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