Expert Article Library

Case Name: Smith v. Cangieter (Click here for the full text of the case)

Court: 8th Circuit Court of Appeals

Date: September 11, 2006

Expert: Mechanical Engineer. Richard Ziernicki, PhD

Issue: Whether the lack of testing, peer review, or acceptance by the scientific community fatally undermined the reliability of Ziernicki’s opinion?

Summary of case: A rented 1998 Nissan Pathfinder swerved, crossed the median and flipped over, ejecting all four passengers from the vehicle and killing them. Plaintiffs allege failure to warn and product defect and negligent supply of a dangerous instrumentality.

Role of the expert: Richard Ziernicki, a mechnical engineer, stated that “use of four-wheel drive on dry, asphalt roadways results in dynamic instability of part-time four-wheel drive vehicles during steering and braking maneuvers, especially at highway speeds.” He explained why this creates a dangerous situation and went on to say that the erratic behavior of such a vehicle would be dangerous to one not accustomed to it. He stated that the user manual failed to warn of this risk.

Challenges to the Expert's testimony: Defendant did not dispute that during such maneuvers the wheels travel different distances and this causes slippage on the tire with the least traction. They moved in limine to exclude Ziernicki’s testimony for lack of conformity with Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and Daubert. The court ruled that the scientific evidence that Ziernicki provided was insufficient to show the “effect the slippage has on control of the vehicle” and whether the slippage “renders the vehicle unsafe, and if so, at what speed.” The Court of Appeals held that the District Court properly excluded Ziernicki’s testimony.

Summary prepared by M. Lanzone, Student, University of California, Hastings College of Law