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Justices rule on admitting testimony in crash cases

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The Indiana Supreme Court released companion cases Tuesday on the issue of admitting certain expert testimony under Indiana Rule of Evidence 702 in two separate car accident cases.

Justice Frank Sullivan authored the opinions in Henry C. Bennett and Schupan & Sons, Inc. v. John Richmond and Jennifer Richmond, No. 20S03-1105-CV-293; and Reginald N. Person, Jr. v. Carol A. Shipley, No. 20S03-1110-CT-609, in which the justices found neither trial court abused its discretion in admitting the testimony in question.

In Bennett, John and Jennifer Richmond sued Henry Bennett and his employer after Bennett rear-ended John Richmond’s van with his company roll-off container truck. At issue in the case is whether the testimony of psychologist Dr. Sheridan McCabe – who determined that John Richmond had experienced a traumatic brain injury in the accident – should be admitted. The trial court allowed it; but the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed.

Sullivan noted the split in other jurisdictions as to whether psychologists may testify as to the cause of a brain injury. The justices looked at McCabe’s qualifications and testimony and found the testimony was allowed under Rule 702.  Sullivan pointed out that other courts have not required specific qualifications in determining the etiology of brain injuries before allowing psychologists or neuropsychologists to testify in this regard.

“Our review of the record, read in conjunction with the requirements of Rule 702, leads us to conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting Dr. McCabe’s causation testimony. The trial court extensively and thoughtfully considered the admissibility of Dr. McCabe’s testimony on three separate occasions during this litigation. Mindful that the trial court is afforded broad discretion in these matters, we decline to find any abuse of it,” he wrote in Bennett.

A similar issue arose in Person, except the expert testimony at issue was that of Dr. Charles Turner, who has a background in engineering and biomechanics. Turner testified on behalf of Carol Shipley – whose vehicle rear-ended Reginald Person’s tractor-trailer when she fell asleep at the wheel – that Person’s lower-back injuries were unlikely caused by the accident based on the speed or velocity of the accident.

Person objected to the admittance of Turner’s testimony, but the trial court allowed it and the jury returned a defense verdict in favor of Shipley. Again looking at Rule 702 and the qualifications and testimony of Turner, the justices found the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion in admitting Turner’s testimony.

“Although we find it unnecessary in this case to expound upon Dr. Turner’s qualifications to offer an opinion on medical causation, we note here as we noted in Bennett that neither the criteria for qualifying under Rule 702 (knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education) nor the purpose for which expert testimony is admitted (to assist the trier of fact) seems to support disallowing an otherwise qualified expert to offer an opinion regarding medical causation simply because he or she lacks a medical degree,” wrote Sullivan in Person.

 

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