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Fields v. Ashford

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

November 5, 2019

ANGELA J. FIELDS, Plaintiff,
v.
PIERRE OCTAVIUS ASHFORD, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO EXCLUDE EXPERT OPINION TESTIMONY OF GARY McDONALD (ECF NO. 81)

          MATTHEW F. LEITMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This action arises out of an automobile accident between Plaintiff Angela Fields and Defendant Pierre Octavius Ashford that occurred on I-96 in Milford, Michigan. Fields' Ford Edge crashed into the back of Ashford's semi-truck shortly after Ashford pulled his truck from the shoulder into Fields' lane of travel. The central dispute between the parties is: what caused the accident? Fields says that Ashford caused the wreck by pulling into her lane and leaving her “no time at all to avoid [the] collision.” (Fields Resp. Br., ECF No. 82, PageID.2337.) Ashford counters that he is not to blame because Fields had enough time to see his truck and to avoid the accident by braking and/or changing lanes.

         Fields has retained accident reconstructionist Gary McDonald to support her causation theory. Ashford and Defendants Corr Transport, Inc. and Dakota Lines, Inc. have moved to exclude McDonald's opinions on the ground that his opinions do not rest upon a reliable foundation. (See Mot. to Exclude, ECF No. 81.) The Court will grant Defendants' motion.

         McDonald's deposition testimony makes clear that he cannot reliably support Fields' causation theory. Indeed, McDonald admitted that he did not conduct any analysis that would allow him to “say” that Fields' “didn't have enough time” to avoid the accident. (McDonald Dep. at 35, ECF No. 81-1, PageID.2258.) Moreover, McDonald's expert report and the remainder of his deposition testimony demonstrate that he did not perform a reliable evaluation of the crash and that none of his causation opinions rest upon a reasonable foundation. His expert report is one page and lists conclusions without any causation analysis, and his deposition testimony revealed that he did not employ any analytical methodology, much less a reliable one. Therefore, for all of these reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion and EXCLUDES McDonald's testimony in its entirety.

         I

         A

         The accident between Fields and Ashford occurred on May 25, 2016. Immediately prior to the accident, Ashford had stopped his semi-truck on the shoulder of I-96. (See Ashford Dep. at 37, ECF No. 71-2, PageID.1592.) Ashford then pulled back into the right lane of traffic at a speed of roughly 20-to-25 miles per hour. (See Id. at 45, PageID.1600.) Fields was driving in that same lane. (See Fields Dep. at 43, ECF No. 71-3, PageID.1695.) Shortly after Ashford re-entered the highway, Fields crashed into the rear of Ashford's semi-truck. (See Id. at 45-46, PageID.1697-98.) Both parties have engaged expert witnesses to support their contention that the other party is at fault for the crash.

         B

         Fields' proposed accident-reconstruction expert is McDonald. McDonald is the President of Magnetic North Consulting, and he is a former officer with the Michigan State Police. (See McDonald Dep. at 7-10, ECF No. 81-1, PageID.2251-2252.) He is also a member the Michigan Association of Traffic Accident Investigators and the International Association of Accident Reconstruction Specialists. (See Id. at 9-10, PageID.2252.)

         Fields retained McDonald in June of 2016. (See Id. at 17-18, PageID.2254.) Thereafter, McDonald inspected Fields' car and reviewed the following documents:

• A Michigan State Police “UD-10” crash report;
• An unidentified “fee calculation form” that McDonald acquired through the Freedom of Information Act;
• A Michigan State Police report from the “Traffic Crash Reconstruction Unit”;
• Unidentified Detroit Diesel Engine Control “reports”; and
• A Michigan State Police “Police Incident Report.”

(McDonald Expert Rpt., ECF No. 81-1, PageID.2246.)

         On June 5, 2018, McDonald submitted his expert report. (See id.) In that report, he opines that Ashford “was the cause of [the] crash.” (Id., PageID.2246-2247.) But the report contains no analysis whatsoever to support or explain that conclusion. Instead, the report - which consists of a mere 329 words and less than a single full page of text - simply lists a handful of facts related to the accident and then states McDonald's conclusion that Ashford caused the crash. In full, the report states as follows:

Based on my review of the above listed items and materials I have the following opinions. This crash occurred on I-96 approximately a 1/2 mile East of the Milford Road-Oakland County in the Eastbound lane speed limit 70 mph. The vehicles involved were a 2005 freightliner semi-tractor with trailer in a 2010 Ford Edge.
The semi-tractor trailer with being operated by Pierre Octavius Ashford, 31 years old of Southfield Michigan. The Ford Edge was being operated by Angela Jeanne fields, 56 years old.
The semi-tractor/trailer was on the right-hand shoulder and merged onto the right-hand lane of I-96 and was struck from behind by the Ford Edge.
The review of the Michigan State Police Report, scale drawings and photographs show and indicate that impact location of this crash was in the right hand lane of the Eastbound I-96.
The impact of the Ford Edge such that the ACM “black box” was damaged to the extent that it could not be downloaded with the CDR tool “computer” for a speed determination.
During the examination of the Ford Edge it was noted that the speedometer needle was a 92 mph and the rpm needle was at 2100 RPM. The rpm's at 2100 and the speed of 92 mph do not appear usable to indicate a true and accurate method of speed determination thus no speed determination was calculated for the Ford Edge.
Mr. Ashford driver of the 2005 freightliner stated that he pulled off the right-hand shoulder onto the right-hand lane of I-96 and was traveling 20 to 25 mph when he was impacted by the Ford Edge.
Ms. Fields driver of the Ford Edge stated that she was traveling approximately 70 mph speed limit and never slowed or braked prior to impact.
It is in my opinion based on my review and analysis of this crash Mr. Ashford was the cause of this crash by entering onto the right lane of I-96 in front of Ms. Fields path of travel.

(Id., PageID.2246-2247.)

         C

         1

         On June 4, 2019, McDonald appeared for a deposition in this action. He testified that he had reached the following conclusions: “Mr. Ashford failed to yield, he was driving below the minimum speed for commercial vehicles on the freeway and he took away Ms. Fields' right-of-way.” (McDonald Dep. at 24, ECF No. 81-1, PageID.2255.) Based upon these conclusions, McDonald opined that Ashford was “a hundred percent” at fault for the accident. (Id. at 26, PageID.2256.)

         2

         During McDonald's deposition, Ashford's counsel asked McDonald to identify any evidence that Ashford left Fields no time to avoid the accident. (See id. at 34-36, PageID.2258.) In response to those questions, McDonald identified only Fields' own testimony that Ashford's truck “jumped right out in front of her.” (Id. at 35, PageID.2258.) He then admitted that, apart from Fields' version of events, he had “no evidence” that Ashford had, in fact, “jumped” in front of Fields. (Id.) More importantly, McDonald admitted that his own work and analysis did not allow him to “say” that Fields “didn't have enough time” to avoid the accident. (Id.) And McDonald further conceded that he could not explain why Fields did not brake, did not swerve, and/or did not slow down before the crash. (See Id. at 34, PageID.2258.) McDonald may not have been able to explain why Fields did not brake, swerve, or slow down because his analysis did not account for “perception-reaction time” and because he did not “factor in perception time.”[1] (Id. at 30, PageID.2257.)

         3

         McDonald's deposition testimony also revealed that he had done only limited work before reaching his conclusions. More specifically, McDonald acknowledged that apart from reviewing the five pieces of evidence listed in the bullet points above (in Section (I)(B)) and inspecting Fields' vehicle, he did not review any other evidence and did not do any modeling or testing before reaching his opinions and issuing his expert report:

Q: So looking at your report … you listed out five items that were reviewed in conjunction with this report: the UD-10, the State of Michigan Freedom of Information Act fee calculation form, a [Michigan State Police] police report [from the] traffic crash reconstitution unit, the [Detroit Diesel Engine Control] reports [] and the [Michigan State Police] police incident report. Is that correct?
A: Correct.
A: Did you review, prior to issuing your report … any other evidence, other than those five items?
A: No.
Q: Other than the vehicle inspection [of Fields' car] did you perform any other independent investigation?
A: No.
Q: Have you inspected any exemplar vehicles in conjunction with this case?
A: No.
Q: Have you done any testing?
A: No.
Q: Have you done any modeling in conjunction with this case?
A: No.
Q: Have you created any animations in conjunction with the ...

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