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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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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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