Expert Article Library

Alternative Automobile Design Needs More than Expert's Opinion

Case Name: Zaremba v. General Motors Corp. (Click here for the full text of the case)

Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Date: February 13, 2004

Expert: Engineer. Donald Philips.

Issues: Whether an engineer can present testimony regarding an alternative design without examining the car involved in the accident and without prototypes or peer review.

Summary of case: The case involved a single-car rollover accident with a driver and two passengers. The driver had a blood-alcohol level more than 2 times the legal limit (1.72). The driver was killed and one passenger suffered severe brain damage. The third passenger had only soft-tissue injuries. No one in the car was wearing a seatbelt. The plaintiff’s are the parents and estate of the driver, and the two other passengers. Plaintiffs claimed the injuries suffered were cause by the manufacturer’s design defect. The plaintiffs claimed that the T-top of the car’s roof was a design defect. Plaintiffs argued that a portal was created when the top and side windows shattered and they were ejected from the car. They argued that an alternative design could have prevented their injuries, if they had not been ejected.

Role of the expert: Donald Philips testified for plaintiffs that a safer alternative design was possible in the Trans Am, to establish that the plaintiff’s injuries would not have been as severe with the alternative design.

Challenges to the Expert's testimony: Defendant challenged the expert’s testimony arguing that it failed to satisfy Federal Rule of Evidence 702. The district court agreed, using the Daubert test. The district court found that Phillips had not examined the automobile; had no calculations to support how the accident occurred; had no model or drawing of his alternative design; had not tested his alternative design; had not had his alternative design subjected to peer review; and had no evidence that other designers or manufacturers in the industry accepted his propositions in the alternative design.

Summary prepared by Chris P. Stafford, Student, Golden Gate University, School of Law