Biomedical engineer allowed to testify that motor vehicle accident did not cause rotator cuff tear

Mollie Pawlosky, Iowa Construction Law, Iowa Commercial Litigation, Dickinson Law Firm, Des Moines Iowa

Posted on 09/13/2016 at 07:16 AM by Mollie Pawlosky

Walton, driving a tractor-trailer rig, was struck head on by Prunchak’s motor vehicle, causing personal injuries.  Walton sued Prunchak for damages.  During a jury trial, Prunchak had a biomechanical engineer testify as an expert concerning the causation mechanisms in the accident.  Although the jury found in favor of Walton, Walton appealed, arguing that the court should not have allowed the biomechanical engineer to testify, and that Walton’s damages would have been greater had the testimony not been allowed.

The Iowa Court of Appeals in Walton v. Prunchak, No. 15-1272 (Aug. 31, 2016) held that the trial court had not abused its discretion in allowing the biomedical engineer to testify.  The appellate court noted that the expert testimony must be relevant, and in the form of “scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge [that] will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.”  The witness must also be “qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.”

Walton challenged both the engineer’s qualification and the reliability of his opinion.  However, the witness had both a bachelor’s of science and a doctorate degree in biomedical engineering, claiming several specialties, including injury causation biomechanics, human injury mechanisms, and vehicular accident reconstruction. The witness had research and experience including a variety of biomechanical investigations or evaluations of motor vehicle crash forces, occupant response, injury mechanisms, and injury causation. The witness had authored numerous peerreviewed journal articles and has often been qualified as an expert witness to testify in legal proceedings in several jurisdictions.

The appellate court concluded, “there is a reliable body of scientific, technical, or specialized knowledge concerning biomechanics (also called biomedical engineering), and particularly concerning the interface between mechanics and biology in the evaluation of motor vehicle collisions and questions of injury mechanisms and causation.”  The testimony was likely to assist the jury in understanding Walton’s probable response upon impact.  The expert’s opinion applied methodologies based on his education, experience, peer-reviewed publications, and generally accepted scientific investigations, and was sufficiently reliable to be admissible.  Prunchak was essentially challenging the weight that should be given to the opinion of a biomedical engineer, and challenges as to weight did not show that the district court had abused its discretion in allowing the expert’s testimony.

For further information regarding expert testimony or commercial litigation in general, contact Mollie Pawlosky.

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