United States District Court, D. Colorado
DAUBERT ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFFS' EXPERT
William J. Martínez, United States District Judge
personal injury/product liability action pending under the
Court's diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a),
Plaintiffs Daniel and Ginger Pertile bring suit against
Defendants General Motors, LLC (“GM”) and TRW
Vehicle Safety Systems, Inc. (“TRW”), for claims
including strict liability, negligence, breach of warranty,
violation of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act, Colo. Rev.
Stat. §§ 6-1-101 et seq., and loss of
consortium. (See generally ECF No. 254.) Now before the Court
are Defendant TRW's Motion to Exclude Stephen Syson's
Seat Belt Opinions (ECF No. 199), and Defendant GM's
Motion to Exclude the Testimony of Stephen R. Syson (ECF No.
200). For the reasons explained below, both motions are
district court must act as a “gatekeeper” in
admitting or excluding expert testimony. Bitler v. A.O.
Smith Corp., 400 F.3d 1227, 1232 (10th Cir. 2004).
Admission of expert testimony is governed by Rule 702, which
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. The proponent of the expert testimony
bears the burden of proving the foundational requirements of
Rule 702 by a preponderance of the evidence. United
States v. Nacchio, 555 F.3d 1234, 1241 (10th Cir.
expert's proposed testimony also must be shown to be
relevant and otherwise admissible. See Adamscheck v. Am.
Family Mut. Ins. Co., 818 F.3d 576, 588 n.7 (10th Cir.
2016). To be relevant, expert testimony must “logically
advanc[e] a material aspect of the case” and be
“sufficiently tied to the facts of the case that it
will aid the jury in resolving a factual dispute.”
United States v. Garcia, 635 F.3d 472, 476 (10th
Cir. 2011) (brackets in original).
an expert witness's testimony must assist the jury to be
deemed admissible, Fed.R.Evid. 702(a), it may not usurp the
jury's fact-finding function. See Specht v.
Jensen, 853 F.2d 805, 808 (10th Cir. 1988). The line
between what is helpful to the jury and what intrudes on the
jury's role as the finder of fact is not always clear,
but it is well-settled that “[a]n opinion is not
objectionable just because it em braces an ultimate
issue.” Fed.R.Evid. 704.
trial court's focus under Rule 702 is on the methodology
employed by an expert, not on his or her conclusions.
Bitler, 400 F.3d at 1233. Ultimately, “the
rejection of expert testimony is the exception rather than
the rule.” Fed.R.Evid. 702 advisory committee's
note. “[T]he trial court's role as gatekeeper is
not intended to serve as a replacement for the adversary
system. . . . Vigorous cross-examination, presentation of
contrary evidence, and careful instruction on the burden of
proof are the traditional and appropriate means of attacking
shaky but admissible evidence.” Id. (quoting
Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579,
background of this case has been set out in other orders and
is not repeated here. In relevant summary, Plaintiff was the
front seat passenger in a 2011 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD
crew cab pickup truck (the “Vehicle”) during a
single vehicle rollover on February 25, 2013 (the
“Rollover, ” or the “Crash”).
Plaintiffs proceed on products liability claims against both
GM, which manufactured the Vehicle, and TRW, which
manufactured its seatbelts.
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2) and Federal Rule
of Evidence 702, Plaintiffs disclosed Mr. Stephen Syson to
testify as an “expert in the areas of vehicle
structures and restraints systems, including but not limited
to evaluation of designs, design alternatives, and
defect.” (ECF No.199-3 at 2.) In particular, Mr. Syson
“is expected to testify about the safety performance of
the roof structure, seat, and seat belt” of the
Syson's written report disclosing his opinions is 31
pages long. (ECF No. 288-2.) The entire transcript of his
deposition is also in the record and the Court has reviewed
these materials in some detail, but only briefly sets out a
summary of his overall opinions below, then addressing the
data and methods underlying those opinions to the extent
challenged by Defendants under Rule 702.
Syson describes the nature of the Crash and opines that
“rollover accidents” like this one “are
highly foreseeable crashes for vehicles like the
Silverado.” (ECF No. 238-2 at 9.) He describes the
steps he took in inspecting the Vehicle and measuring the
deformation or damage to various components. (Id. at
10-11.) In addition to summarizing his qualifications and
lengthy professional history in automobile safety, his report
cites test results, published studies, and knowledge of
industry practices and technologies as relevant to his
opinions, which relate primarily to roof strength and
Syson opines, generally, that the Vehicle's roof should
have been stronger. He states that “[t]he inherent
weakness of the . . . [Vehicle's] roof structure is a
result of a number of design defects.” He lists what he
sees as those defects, and suggests alternate designs.
(Id. at 12.) He opines, for example: that
“[t]he right B pillar buckled . . . due to a reduction
in section stiffness”; that “[f]illing the pillar
with high-density EA foam . . . would reduce the weakening
effect of the stress concentration”; that “[t]he
C pillar is constructed with . . . . relatively low strength
materials”; and, that “[t]he negative effects of
numerous small holes in the structure would be dramatically
reduced by using of anti-buckling filler materials, or
alternative assembly procedures, which would eliminate such
holes.” (Id. at 12.)
Syson also opines as to the consequences of such alleged
design defects, including that “[a] weak roof structure
permits a compromise of the ‘survival space' or
‘safety zone' around an occupant.”
(Id. at 13.) Given his review, he opines “GM
should have designed out the danger by providing a roof
structure or rollover protective system (ROPS) to keep the
roof from collapsing.” (Id. at 10.) He also
states that “GM could have made the roof . . . strong
enough to withstand this rollover accident while maintaining
Mr. Pertile's survival space, ” and that
“[i]f [the Vehicle's] roof structure had maintained
[Mr. Pertile's] survival space he likely would have
walked away with minor injuries. However, once his survival
space was destroyed, his other safety restaints were rendered
ineffective.” (Id. at 14, 15.)
Syson also opines that the “restraint system in the
Silverado is not reasonably safe in that it failed its
fundamental purpose to restrain the occupant and keep the
occupant within the available survival space and away from
internal components of the vehicle that could result in
serious injury.” (Id. at 23.) His opinion is
that “during the rollover collision, [Mr. Pertile] was
inadequately restrained, in part since slack was introduced
into his seatbelt restraint due to crush and the system
lacked a rollover sensor that would have deployed the
pretensioner.” (Id. at 7.) Given that Mr.
Pertile's seat was partially reclined before the Crash,
Mr. Syson also opines that ...