Bangor Injury Claims: Establishing Causation Per the Daubert Standard

In Bangor personal injury lawsuits, solid, reliable expert testimony is a critical part of success. It’s the necessary link to proving that you suffered damage directly as a result of the other party’s negligence. businesslaw.jpg

If the defense can establish doubt for the jury by insinuating your injuries were caused in some other way, your case could be in jeopardy.

In order to ensure that the testimony provided by your expert witness is admissible in court, the judge will apply the Daubert standard. This much-used criteria was first established in the case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals in 1993, which allows for the standard of flexible reliability.

The basic tenants of the Daubert standard are this:

  • The judge serves as the gatekeeper for discerning what is truly scientific knowledge.
  • There has to be some relevance and reliability with regard to the testimony.
  • The testimony conclusions should be based on either scientific knowledge or credible scientific methodology.
  • Factors that might be considered relevant in reaching the validity of the conclusions would be independent empirical testing, peer review and publication, potential error rates, maintenance of certain control standards and the overall degree to which the theory/technique is accepted in the field.

Reaching this standard is usually not problematic when you hire an experienced personal injury lawyer to help you prepare your case.

But that doesn’t mean defendants won’t try to challenge a claim in any way they can. Such was the case in Tedder v. American Railcar Industries, reviewed recently by the U. . Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

This case was interesting because the defendant didn’t deny the negligence of their employee. What they challenged was whether that negligence caused the injuries sustained by the plaintiff, and this is why expert testimony became such an important factor here.

Court records reveal that the plaintiff was working as a welder when he was struck by a golf cart, driven by an employee of American Railcar Industries Inc. The impact knocked the plaintiff off the table where he’d been sitting and he immediately began to complain of back pain. He was hospitalized and since then has remained physically disabled (walks with a limp) and in pain.

American Railcar never argued that the driver of that golf cart was negligent, and that they therefore would be vicariously liable. But the issue was whether the defendant’s physical disabilities were indeed caused by that particular incident.

It was true that the plaintiff had a history of work-related injuries, dating back to the 1970s. An industrial welding accident 30 years ago rendered him unable to work for three years. He returned to light duty after that, but again injured his back at work in 2000 and again in 2006.

Still, the plaintiff at trial offered up seven lay witnesses – people who knew him well – who testified that he was generally asympomatic prior to the incident. They said there had been marked deterioration in his physical condition after the incident in question.

ARI, however, contested this stance, alleging that the plaintiff’s prior injuries, his obesity, his history of smoking and hobbies that included bowling and hunting could have caused his injuries.

To counter this, the plaintiff offered up the testimony of a doctor who indicated that the golf cart incident was the result of his injuries. This opinion was based on a differential diagnosis.

However, upon cross-examination, it was revealed that the doctor was unaware of the plaintiff’s earlier back injuries. Still, the doctor said even with those older injuries, if he had been generally without symptoms just prior to the incident, then his conclusion about causation remained unchanged.

The defendant objected to this testimony on the grounds that a differential diagnosis that didn’t weigh past injuries didn’t meet the Daubert standard.

The court however overruled this argument and the jury decided in favor of the plaintiff – in the amount of $2.3 million for the nature and permanency of his injury, pain and suffering, medical expenses, past and future lost wages and the visible effects of his injuries.

(The district did later reduce this award on the grounds that the judge believed it partially punitive to the defense attorney, for whom several jurors expressed visual dislike.)

This verdict was later appealed by the defendant, which again argued that the doctor’s testimony should have been tossed and further, the lay witnesses’ testimony shouldn’t have been allowed to be admitted to establish causation.

The court found that while a failure to consider an alternative potential cause of an injury might invalidate a differential diagnosis, the fact that the doctor didn’t learn about the prior injuries until trial didn’t render his opinion unreliable. In fact, he modified his diagnosis to indicate that so long as the patient was asymptomatic prior to the incident, his diagnosis still stood.

Additonally, the doctor hadn’t based his opinion solely on what the plaintiff told him. He had performed leg-raise tests, CT scans and other medical evaluations in reaching his determination.

With regard to allowing lay witnesses to testify that the plaintiff was asymptomatic prior to the incident, the appellate court found that the lower court did not err.

If you have been injured in Bangor, contact us at 1-800-804-2004 or read more on our website.

Additional Resources:
Tedder v. American Railcar Industries, Jan. 9, 2014, U. . Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

More Blog Entries:
Timely, Proper Filing of Medical Malpractice Claims Key to Success, Dec. 1, 2013, Bangor Personal Injury Lawyer Blog

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