Court limits certain conclusions of Accident Reconstruction Expert Witness deemed "unsupported" and "misleading"

Court limits certain conclusions of Accident Reconstruction Expert Witness deemed “unsupported” and “misleading”

This case arose from a motor vehicle accident on Interstate 55 in Scott County, Missouri. Plaintiffs Benjamin Behel, David Wallace, and Joye Wallace filed a lawsuit against Defendants Berney Wescott, Heritage Transport LLC, Bobby James, and Tracy Reynolds for damages sustained in the accident. 

Behel was driving southbound in the right lane with an attached trailer. Wescott was driving a semi-tractor trailer behind Behel in the same lane. James was driving behind Wescott in the same lane. At some point, Wescott’s vehicle struck the rear of Behel’s trailer. James then veered into the left lane to avoid a collision. Wescott’s vehicle jackknifed, causing his trailer to swing into the left lane and collide with James’ vehicle. This forced James’ vehicle into the median where he collided with Behel, whose vehicle had moved into the median after being struck by Wescott.

Plaintiffs designated William Hampton as an expert witness to analyze the accident. Hampton prepared a report with opinions to which Defendants objected. Defendants Bobby Lynn James and Tracy Lonny Reynolds filed a motion to exclude the opinions and testimony of Plaintiffs’ expert William Hampton while Defendants Heritage Transport, LLC, and Berney P. Wescott filed a motion to limit the testimony of Hampton.

Accident Reconstruction Expert Witness

William E. Hampton is an expert in accident investigation and reconstruction, particularly in motor vehicle and commercial trucking accidents. Through his company W.E. Hampton & Associates, Inc., where he serves as President, Hampton provides accident reconstruction services and evaluates commercial motor carrier compliance, inspection, and safety matters, including the hiring and retention of truck drivers. He has experience investigating the causes of trucking accidents and assessing whether commercial trucking companies and their drivers violated regulations or safety standards. 

Discussions by the Court

In Opinion 6, Hampton presented an opinion, asserting that Berney Wescott operated his vehicle as a distracted driver. This distraction allegedly stemmed from playing a college football game on his phone and looking to the rear of his vehicle for an extended period. According to Hampton, Wescott’s diverted attention led him to approach the Behel vehicle closely. Defendants Wescott and Heritage Transport, LLC, objected to this opinion, contending that it should be excluded. They argued that the opinion lacked sufficient factual foundation and was based solely on Hampton’s speculation. Specifically, the Defendants claimed that there was insufficient evidence for Hampton to conclusively assert that Wescott’s act of listening to a football game on his cell phone was a direct cause or contributor to the crash.

Upon a thorough examination of Hampton’s Opinion Number 6 and his deposition, it is evident that his conclusion regarding Wescott being a distracted driver stemmed from considering the totality of circumstances, rather than attributing it solely to one factor, such as listening to a football game. Despite the Defendants’ objection, which seemed to misinterpret Hampton’s stance by asserting that he concluded Wescott was a distracted driver solely due to the football game, the Court found that Hampton did not make such a specific assertion. Consequently, the Defendants’ argument was deemed unfounded, leading to the denial of their request to exclude this portion of Hampton’s opinion.

In Opinion 12, Hampton stated that Bobby James was following the Wescott vehicle too closely, violating the standards outlined in the Commercial Motor Vehicle Driver Manual and industry norms. According to Hampton, James did not have adequate time and distance to avoid the vehicles of Wescott and Behel. Defendants James and Reynolds opposed this conclusion, arguing that it lacked sufficient factual basis. The essence of the Defendants’ argument boiled down to the assertion that, had the Wescott trailer not jackknifed, the collision would not have occurred. They contended that this fundamental premise justified the exclusion of Hampton’s conclusion.

Contrary to the Defendants’ position, the Plaintiffs assert that the central issue in the case revolves around whether the James vehicle was following the Wescott vehicle too closely before the events that caused injury to the Plaintiffs. They argue that if James had maintained an appropriate distance from Wescott, he would have had sufficient space to either come to a stop or execute an evasive maneuver, thereby preventing the collision with the Wescott tanker. The Plaintiffs support this argument by referencing Hampton’s report, where he suggests that, instead of following the Behel vehicle at a four-second interval, James should have maintained a minimum of seven seconds or a distance of 735 feet at their speed of 72 miles per hour. According to Hampton, if James had followed the Wescott vehicle at a safe distance, he could have avoided the crash by bringing his vehicle to a complete stop within 514 feet.

The Plaintiffs, along with Hampton, appear to argue either that (1) James should have maintained a greater distance from Wescott when he was in the right lane to prevent a rear-end collision with the Wescott trailer, or (2) James should have kept a greater distance from Wescott even while in the left lane to avoid a collision with the jackknifed Wescott trailer. If the contention is the former, this argument is deemed unsuccessful because James did manage to avoid colliding with Wescott when he successfully maneuvered into the left lane. The collision occurred only after James had transitioned into the left lane, at which point Wescott’s vehicle jackknifed, leading to the subsequent collision. Therefore, it is illogical to assert that James needed more following distance to swerve into the left lane and avoid rear-ending the Wescott trailer, as he had already done so.

If, on the other hand, their argument is the latter, it similarly lacks coherence. The requirement for maintaining a sufficient distance between vehicles is relevant in the context of following. However, once James maneuvered into the left lane, he ceased to be “following” Wescott; instead, he occupied the left lane while Behel and Wescott were in the right lane. In this scenario, Plaintiffs and Hampton would be advocating for a standard where, after moving into the left lane, James still had an obligation to maintain a significant distance behind the Wescott and Behel vehicles, even though those vehicles were not in his lane. Such a framework would imply that any vehicle within a distance less than 514 feet behind Wescott or Behel in either lane would be considered in violation, including a vehicle that had never been in the right lane or one lawfully attempting to pass. These scenarios conflict with both legal driving practices and common sense. The Court cannot fault James for driving in a lane where he had every right to be. Consequently, the Court remains unconvinced by Hampton’s conclusion that James was following the Wescott and Behel vehicles too closely.

Furthermore, Hampton’s conclusion is deemed unsupported and misleading, as a reasonable listener would likely infer from it that James’ following distance was a but-for cause of his collision with the Wescott trailer. However, as previously highlighted, James did not collide with Wescott’s trailer due to his following distance; instead, the collision occurred because he was in the left lane when Wescott’s vehicle jackknifed. The Court finds particular merit in the analysis presented in the Defendants’ briefing, emphasizing that James successfully changed lanes to the left and was in no different position than if he had been driving in the left lane all along. Consequently, Hampton should not be permitted to testify that being in the right lane, as opposed to the left lane, led to James following too closely, as in either scenario, James would have been in the left lane when the Wescott trailer jackknifed and collided with his semi.

Considering the aforementioned factors, the Court determines that Hampton’s conclusion stating, “Bobby James was following the Wescott vehicle too closely…and did not have the time and distance to avoid the Wescott and Behel vehicles,” lacks fundamental support to the extent that it provides no meaningful assistance to the fact-finder. The Court concludes that the probative value of such a conclusion is “substantially outweighed by a danger of…misleading the jury,” as per Federal Rule of Evidence 403. Consequently, the Court grants the Defendants’ request to exclude this specific portion of Hampton’s testimony.

In Opinion 13, Hampton stated, “The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Guide to Improving Highway Safety illustrates the unsafe actions of Berney Wescott, and Bobby James contributed to the causation of this crash, and defined the crash as preventable.” Defendants Wescott and Heritage argued for the exclusion of this opinion based on the phrase “contributed to the causation of this crash.” James and Reynolds, on the other hand, disputed Hampton’s conclusion that the FMCSA’s Guide to Improving Highway Safety defined the crash as preventable.

Defendants Wescott and Heritage argued for the exclusion of a portion of Hampton’s testimony, asserting that it constituted an impermissible legal conclusion. They contended that expert witnesses should not decide legal questions. The Court acknowledged the general principle that expert witnesses should not offer legal conclusions but emphasized that expert testimony is admissible if it is reliable and assists the jury in understanding the evidence or deciding a fact in issue. The Court cited the standard set by the Eighth Circuit, Archer Daniels Midland Co. v. Aon Risk Servs., 356 F.3d 850, 858 (8th Cir. 2004), stating that expert testimony can only be excluded if it is “so fundamentally unsupported that it can offer no assistance to the jury.” In this case, the Court found that Hampton’s opinion was fact-based, derived from an evaluation of the case’s facts, and not a mere statement of legal conclusion. As such, the Court denied the Defendants’ request to exclude this portion of Hampton’s testimony.

Defendants James and Reynolds argued for the exclusion of a specific portion of Hampton’s testimony concerning James. They contended that Hampton failed to adequately establish a connection between his conclusion and James’ conduct, a point uncontested by the Plaintiffs in their briefing.

Hampton, in his report, referenced the FMCSA’s Guide, stating that an accident where one vehicle rear-ends another is deemed preventable if the driver failed to adhere to safe following distances, maintain control of their vehicle, monitor traffic conditions, and assess whether the vehicle ahead is slowing down. After listing these criteria, Hampton concluded that “Wescott failed to follow these safe operating procedures, which were the causation of this crash.” However, James’ name was notably absent from Hampton’s discussion on preventability. Nowhere in the report or deposition did Hampton explicitly state that James also failed to follow these safe operating procedures. The Defendants highlighted this omission, noting that Hampton did not assert that James failed to follow the specified procedures in his report, nor did he provide an explanation of how James might have failed to do so. Instead, James’ name was included in the summary of opinions without further clarification.

Furthermore, the assertion that James could have prevented the accident is deemed inaccurate, especially considering Hampton’s deposition acknowledgment that he cannot dismiss the possibility that James might not have collided with the Wescott vehicle had it not been jackknifed.

Given the lack of a valid rationale supporting the conclusion that James’ actions could have prevented the crash, the Court has decided to exclude this specific portion of Hampton’s testimony concerning James.

In Opinion 11, Hampton stated, “Berney Wescott violated several regulations and statutes from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and the State of Missouri, which led to the causation of this crash.”

Defendants Heritage and Wescott sought the exclusion of Hampton’s Opinion 11, arguing against the use of the word “causation.” The Court rejected their argument and consequently denied their request to exclude Hampton’s Opinion Number 11.

In the process of preparing his report, Hampton utilized a computer animation of the crash created by DKG Global, Inc. Defendants Wescott and Heritage expressed concerns about the animation, stating that it illustrates the accident sequence and includes “what if” scenarios depicting alternative outcomes under different circumstances. These Defendants asserted that Hampton might seek to use this animation as a demonstrative aid during the trial. They argued for Hampton’s exclusion from using the animation at trial, citing reasons such as a perceived lack of foundation and Hampton’s non-involvement in the creation of the animation.

The concerns raised by the Defendants regarding the use of the animation may or may not be valid, but their request is deemed premature. Plaintiffs themselves acknowledged that the determination of whether to use the animation at trial has not been finalized. The Court emphasized that if, at a later stage, it becomes evident that Plaintiffs intend to introduce the animation into evidence or present it as a demonstrative aid for the trier of fact, the Defendants can renew their objection. However, as of now, the objection is considered premature, and the Court has not granted the Defendants’ motion to exclude on this ground.


The Court granted the motion filed by Defendants Bobby Lynn James and Tracy Lonny Reynolds to exclude the opinions and testimony of Plaintiffs’ expert William Hampton.

In contrast, the Court denied the motion in limine submitted by Defendants Heritage Transport, LLC, and Berney P. Wescott to limit the testimony of Hampton.

The Court finally ruled in favor of Defendants Bobby Lynn James and Tracy Lonny Reynolds and against Defendants/Cross-claimants Berney P. Wescott and Heritage Transport, LLC after the Court found that the Plaintiffs and Cross-claimants failed to provide sufficient, probative evidence which would permit a fact finder to rule in their favor.

Key Takeaways

In the legal proceedings, expert testimony provided by William Hampton has been a subject of contention, particularly regarding his opinions on the behavior of the involved parties in a vehicular collision. Hampton’s Opinion Number 6, which suggested that Berney Wescott operated his vehicle as a distracted driver, was challenged by Defendants who argued for its exclusion, asserting a lack of factual foundation and reliance on speculation. However, the Court found that Hampton’s conclusion was based on a comprehensive assessment of the circumstances, refuting the Defendants’ claim of a singular focus on the football game distraction. In contrast, Hampton’s Opinion 12, implicating Bobby James for following too closely, faced successful opposition from Defendants who argued that the crash would not have occurred if the Wescott trailer had not jackknifed. The Court ruled in favor of the Defendants, excluding this portion of Hampton’s testimony due to its lack of fundamental support and potential to mislead the jury. Furthermore, Hampton’s Opinion 13, involving the FMCSA’s Guide to Improving Highway Safety, faced objections for consisting of legal conclusions, but the Court rejected the exclusion request, considering Hampton’s opinion as fact-based and not fundamentally unsupported. The Court’s decisions highlight the importance of a nuanced evaluation of expert testimony, addressing concerns of foundation, coherence, and misleading implications.


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