In Hughes v. Kia Motors Corp., No. 13-10922, the Eleventh Circuit recently affirmed the district court’s exclusion of the plaintiff’s expert witness in a motor vehicle product liability case. Allene Hughes, the plaintiff’s daughter, died of a traumatic brain injury after a Mack truck struck her Kia Optima and sent the car “pinballing about,” colliding with two parked cars, a fence, a tree, three metal posts, and a flag pole. The plaintiff contended that Kia’s failure to install a fuel shut-off switch led to Allene’s death, and hired a “causation expert” (a medical doctor certified in forensic pathology) whose opinion was that if the Optima had stopped operating after the initial impact with the Mack truck, Allene would not have died.
Applying Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), the Eleventh Circuit held that the district court could reasonably question the reliability of the expert's opinion due to his failure to adequately explain his methodology, and his inability to rule out the collision with the Mack truck as the cause of the fatal injury. Explaining the requirement that an expert employ reliable methodology, the court stated that “[s]omething doesn’t become scientific knowledge just because it’s uttered by a scientist; nor can an expert’s self-serving assertion that his conclusions were derived by the scientific method be deemed conclusive.” The court also affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Kia because the plaintiff failed to present any evidence demonstrating that the lack of a shut-off switch was the but-for cause of the fatal injury.
The Hughes opinion came down the day after the Eleventh Circuit issued another Daubert-related decision, Chapman v. Procter & Gamble Distributing, LLC, No. 12-14502. In Chapman, the plaintiff claimed that zinc in her denture adhesive caused her to develop a neurological condition. Affirming the exclusion of the plaintiff’s four causation experts due to unreliable methodologies, the court noted that the medical community does not generally recognize zinc as toxic, that epidemiological evidence does not establish that zinc could have caused her condition, and that the experts had not adequately excluded other potential causes.