Johnston-Forbes v. Matsunaga: Exclusion of Expert Testimony in Car Accident Lawsuits

Johnston-Forbes v. Matsunaga, an appeal heard before the Supreme Court of Washington, involved a plaintiff (“Plaintiff”) who was a professional golfer. Plaintiff played in a golf tournament and was headed back to her hotel room, along with her family. Plaintiff was sitting in the middle of the backseat with her two young children in car seats sitting on either side of her.

1390432_traffic_light.jpgThe car was stopped at a traffic light when it was rear-ended by a car driven by Defendant. That evening, Plaintiff said she was experiencing pain in her neck and back. Eventually, the pain in her back ceased, but the pain in her neck continued.

Plaintiff had an MRI performed four years after the accident that revealed that she had a herniated disc in her neck. She was never able to return to the LPGA pro golf tour.

At trial, Plaintiff sued Defendant, seeking both general and special damages. Special damages are those for which an exact amount can be established, like medical bills, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. Defendant did not deny liability for hitting Plaintiff but denied that Defendant’s negligent driving caused her injuries.

As our Winston-Salem attorneys who represent car accident victims understand, in some cases, a Defendant will admit that they engaged in negligent conduct that caused the accident. When a Defendant submits to the court on the issue of liability, there will be a trial just on the issue of damages. In other words, the defendant admits that the accident was his or her fault but disagrees about the amount of money, if any, that should be awarded to the plaintiff.

In Johnston-Forbes, Plaintiff moved to exclude Defendant’s use of pictures of her vehicle and an expert witness who was to testify about the photographs. The grounds for this motion were that the expert was not a licensed engineer, as required for expert witnesses under the relevant state statute, the fact that the expert only looked at photographs of Defendant’s vehicle (not Plaintiff’s vehicle), and the evidence would mislead and confuse the jury because it was not being offered in the proper context.

The trial court, after hearing that the expert had examined hundreds of car accidents and had degrees in biomechanics, determined that he had the proper credentials to give his expert opinion. The main difference between expert witnesses and other witnesses is that most “fact” witnesses can only testify about what they saw or heard. They can only state the facts to the jury. They cannot tell the jury what there opinions of the facts are, because that would be speculation that is not allowed by fact witnesses. Once a witness has been declared an expert based upon his or her experience, training, and education, that witness can state an opinion that is not merely speculation.

On appeal, the court ultimately affirmed the trial court’s denial of the plaintiff’s motion to exclude the testimony of the expert. The court’s reasoning was that, while he lacked a license, he had the relevant background to testify as an expert for certain issues relevant to the case.

Contact the Winston-Salem car accident attorneys at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Johnston-Forbes v. Matsunaga, August 28, 2014, Washington Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Floyd-Tunnell v. Shelter Mut. Ins. Co. – Battling Partial Exclusions in Auto Insurance, Aug. 11, 2014, Winston-Salem Accident Lawyer

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