Court Discusses the Limits of Expert Testimony in Massachusetts Wrongful Death Cases

When a person dies in a truck accident, the person’s loved ones will often pursue a wrongful death claim against the party that caused the crash. As commercial truck drivers have duties and obligations that go beyond the understanding of the average layperson, in many truck accident cases, the parties will rely on experts to offer testimony regarding whether the truck driver breached the duty of care. There are limits as to what an expert can testify to, however, and as shown in a recent wrongful death case decided by a Massachusetts appellate court, if the expert exceeds his or her permitted scope, his or her testimony may be stricken. If you lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, you should consult a skilled Massachusetts personal injury attorney to discuss what damages you may be able to recover.

Factual and Procedural Background of the Case

It is reported that the plaintiff’s decedent was riding a motorcycle when he was struck by a commercial truck entering the roadway. The truck was driven by the defendant driver and owned by the defendant trucking company. The decedent ultimately died from his injuries, and the personal representative of his estate filed a wrongful death suit against the defendants. Following a trial, a jury found in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff subsequently moved for a new trial, arguing, in part, that the trial court erred in excluding portions of the plaintiff’s expert’s testimony.

Permissible Scope of Expert Testimony

In Massachusetts, a trial court judge has ample discretion regarding what expert testimony he or she admits. Thus, an abuse of discretion will only be found in cases in which, after considering any relevant factors, the judge’s decision is beyond the range of reasonable alternatives and constitutes a clear abuse of discretion.

In general, an expert’s opinion is not objectionable simply because it touches on the ultimate issue of the case. An expert may not, however, offer testimony that improperly intrudes on a jury’s fact-finding duties. Additionally, experts cannot offer opinions on conclusions that the jury can reach without the assistance of an expert.

In the subject case, the plaintiff’s expert testified that the accident was caused by the truck driver’s failure to notice the motorcycle when the driver entered the roadway. The expert had been previously advised, however, that while he could testify regarding the driver’s line of sight and other calculations, he could not state what he believed caused the accident. Thus, the appellate court found that it was within the trial court’s discretion to strike the portion of the expert’s testimony that opined on causation, and a new trial was not warranted.

Confer with a Dedicated Personal Injury Attorney

The sudden loss of a loved one in an accident can cause permanent emotional and financial harm. If you suffered the loss of a loved one due to someone else’s careless or reckless acts, it is in your best interest to confer with a dedicated Massachusetts personal injury attorney to discuss your potential claims and what damages you may be able to recover. The seasoned attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan will gather the facts and evidence needed to craft effective arguments in favor of your recovery of the full amount of compensation you may be owed. We can be contacted at 508-822-6600 or through our online form to schedule a conference about your case.