If you or a loved one is involved in a car accident, it’s important to preserve all possible evidence for use in a possible lawsuit against the manufacturer, as one couple found out to their chagrin.
Howard and Barbara Piltch were traveling in their Mercury Mountaineer when they hit a patch of black ice, causing the car to slide off the road and into a wall. Upon impact, none of the car’s airbags deployed and they were both injured. As a result of the accident, Mr. Piltch broke several vertebrae and Mrs. Piltch sustained neurological injuries.
The Black Box
After this crash, the Piltches had their Mountaineer repaired at the same shop that had repaired the car after the 2006 accident. In 2009, the Piltches sold the Mountaineer. The buyer happened to be a mechanic who reprogrammed the vehicle’s black box, wiping any data that might remain from either crash.
They sued Ford Motor Company, alleging the vehicle was defective under Indiana law. The trial court held that, without expert testimony, the plaintiffs could not create an issue of fact as to the cause of the crash.
During discovery, the Piltches never served any expert reports, despite obtaining an extension of the expert-disclosure deadline. The couple asserted that their circumstantial evidence, namely the Mountaineer’s owner’s manual and Mr. Piltch’s testimony, created genuine issues of fact as to defect and proximate cause.
Under Indiana law, similar to the law in Tennessee, the plaintiff must establish that (1) he or she was harmed by a product; (2) the product was sold ‘in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to any user or consumer’; (3) the plaintiff was a foreseeable user or consumer; (4) the defendant was in the business of selling the product; and (5) the product reached the consumer or user in the condition it was sold.”
Finally, and particularly pertinent to the issues in this case, expert testimony on an issue is required when the issue is not within the understanding of a lay person.
Lack of Expert Testimony
Here, not only did the Piltches fail to produce alternative air bag designs, but they also failed to introduce expert testimony on the question of design defect. Without expert testimony, a lay jury would be unable to compare the costs and benefits of supposed alternative air bag designs with the Mountaineer’s actual air bag design, the court decided.
“The Piltches do not provide testimony about the accident other than their own,” the federal appeals court noted. “We also do not have testimony on the state of the car following the collision. This is especially problematic considering the Piltches preserved neither the Mountaineer nor, critically, the Mountaineer’s black box, which could have contained details about the crash. Without this information, and without an accident reconstruction expert or otherwise ‘skilled witness’ to fill in some of these blanks, a lay person would be unable to discern whether the circumstances of the crash should have triggered air bag deployment or not.”
Owner’s Manual Too General
Furthermore, the presentation of the Mountaineer’s owner’s manual does nothing to elevate this evidence out of the realm of speculation, the court said, because the conditions for airbag deployment in the Mountaineer’s manual “are written in broad generalities.”
If you get hurt in a car crash in Memphis, try to preserve all evidence as well as you can – specifically including the vehicle’s data recorder. If something is missing, you still may be able to win with expert testimony. That’s why it’s important to contact experienced Memphis attorneys who know how to win these cases.