Trucking Expert Witness Testimony on Negligent Operation of Vehicles Admitted

Trucking Expert Witness Testimony on Negligent Operation of Vehicles Admitted

Plaintiff Shawn Martin suffered serious injuries from the rear-end motor vehicle collision with Defendant Valenzuela’s trailer, which occurred on I-84 on Cabbage Hill outside Pendleton, Oregon, amid adverse weather conditions. Defendants Luis Valenzuela and Baljinder Singh were operating commercial motor vehicles, while Defendant Joel Hannu was driving a large pick-up truck. The Plaintiff, Shawn Martin, operated a pick-up truck and had a passenger, Dylan Smith, at the time of the incident.

Defendants Valenzuela and Singh encountered a scene with multiple vehicles blocking the highway upon their arrival. As Defendant Valenzuela was slowing down for traffic, Defendant Singh, along with a Black Ford Escape, collided behind him, forcing Valenzuela out of his lane. Consequently, Valenzuela’s semi-truck was struck by Defendant Singh and/or the Ford Escape. Despite managing to bring his truck to a complete stop on the highway exit ramp without colliding with other vehicles, Valenzuela couldn’t proceed forward due to previous collisions blocking the road. Additionally, Defendant Singh’s tractor-trailer obstructed the exit. In a matter of seconds, the Plaintiff, Shawn Martin, collided with the rear of Valenzuela’s trailer.

The Plaintiff entered the highway from the onramp immediately preceding the exit where the accident occurred. At that location, an Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) worker flagged down the Plaintiff, warning of an accident or a stalled vehicle in the fast lane about two miles down the road. Although the Plaintiff noticed some fog upon entering the highway, the weather conditions worsened just before the accident, reaching “zero visibility.” Despite being aware of the stalled vehicle ahead and facing poor visibility, multiple witnesses, including the Plaintiff’s passenger, had confirmed the Plaintiff’s speed at 45 miles per hour just before colliding with the back of Valenzuela’s stopped trailer. Plaintiff sustained serious injuries in the accident. Plaintiffs Shawn Martin and Karen Martin brought a negligence action against multiple Defendants, stemming from a multi-vehicle accident.

The Plaintiff hired a trucking expert, Lew Grill, with the intention of obtaining testimony on Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations. Grill’s evaluation focused on determining whether the Defendants’ drivers had violated FMCSA regulations. 

The final deadline for expert disclosures had been known to the parties for months. By Order dated April 10, 2023, the Court reset the deadline for expert disclosures to July 18, 2023, and rebuttal expert disclosures to August 8, 2023. On July 18, 2023, the Plaintiffs disclosed and produced reports from their two purported primary experts, Lew Grill ( Trucking Expert)  and Sharla Paso (Medical Billing Expert). On August 8, 2023, the date for rebuttal reports, Plaintiffs submitted a four-page “rebuttal” report from Paso and newly disclosed expert Michele Cook (“Paso/Cook Report”) that contained the primary opinions alluded to but not included in the original Paso Report.

Defendant Valenzuela moved to exclude the expert report of Plaintiffs’ trucking expert, Lew Grill (“Grill”), under Federal Rule of Evidence 702. The basis for Valenzuela’s motion was the assertion that Grill’s opinion, as presented in his expert report, lacked sufficient reliability, and his methodology was flawed due to a failure to consider adequate facts and data. Additionally, Defendant Singh joined in the motion. Defendant Singh also moved to strike the expert reports of Passo/Cook due to Plaintiffs’ failure to adhere to their expert discovery obligations under Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(2)(B).

Trucking Expert Witness

Lew Grill, an expert witness in motor fleet safety, accident investigation, and traffic accident reconstruction, has a comprehensive background in the trucking industry. He has over 50 years’ experience as a truck driver, independent trucker, truck driver training instructor, and consultant for motor carriers and truck driving schools. Grill holds licenses, certifications, and qualifications as a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) driver with endorsements for hazardous materials, tank truck, double & triple trailers, passenger carriage, and school bus. Currently, Grill is the Founder and Chief Visionary Officer (CVO) at The Legacy Corporation International, and since March 1990, he has been the Founder/CVO, Author, Publisher, A/V Producer, and trucking consultant at Atlantic Pacific Resource Group, Inc.

Medical Billing Expert Witness

Sharla Paso, DNP, RNC-OB, Women’s Health CNS, has a Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP) from the University of Washington, and has 25 years of experience in various nursing areas including ICU, medical surgical, dialysis, and all areas of obstetric/newborn nursing. Sharla holds certifications in obstetric nursing and as a Life Care Planner. Paso is currently the Owner of Medical Vocational Planning, LLC, and is the Founder of Listen Line Community Services. She obtained her Associate Degree from the College of St Catherine-MPLS and then earned her B.S.N. from Walden University. 

Life Care Planning Expert Witness

Michele Cook, RN, MA, ABVE has been a Registered Nurse, Medical Case Manager and Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor for over 30 years. She is also a Life Care Planner for over 15 years. She obtained her R.N. from Los Angeles County College of Nursing and Allied Health and then earned her M.A. from Marylhurst University. Cook is currently the Owner/Operator of Medical Vocational Planning, LLC, which serves the attorney clients in areas of medical negligence, personal injury, motor vehicle accidents, product liability, wrongful death, domestic relations, and workers’ compensation.

Discussion by the Court

Federal Rule of Evidence 702 outlines the criteria for admissibility of expert testimony, requiring qualification, reliability, and relevance. The proponent bears the burden of establishing these requirements by a preponderance of the evidence. The Court acts as a gatekeeper, ensuring the testimony is both relevant and reliable. The relevancy bar is low, demanding logical advancement of a material aspect of the case. Testimony is reliable if rooted in the knowledge and experience of the relevant discipline, with a flexible inquiry allowing broad discretion to trial Courts. The reliability test focuses on the methodology’s soundness, not the correctness of conclusions, and shaky but admissible evidence should be addressed through cross-examination and contrary evidence rather than exclusion.

Lew Grill, a trucking expert retained by the Plaintiffs, provided an expert opinion where he formulated the opinion that both Defendants Singh and Valenzuela were negligent in their operation of their vehicles and failed to adhere to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) regulations. His opinion was based on the review of several documents, including the Oregon State Police Traffic Crash Report, Oregon State Police Incident Report, Driver Statements, Photos of the accident scene, and Deposition Transcripts for Plaintiff Shawn Martin, witness Dylan Smith, and Defendant Singh.

In their motion to exclude Grill’s testimony, the Defendants pointed out that Grill had not reviewed testimony from witnesses Joel Hannu and Sam Glerup or Defendant Valenzuela, which would have provided information on the conditions immediately preceding the accident. Additionally, the Defendants noted that Grill did not consider testimony from multiple witnesses regarding the weather at the time of the accident or the conditions of the road. The Defendants argued that reviewing this evidence was crucial for any expert to form a reliable opinion. Due to Grill’s failure to examine this evidence, the Defendants asserted that his opinion was unreliable and should be excluded. In response, the Plaintiffs contended that “material facts (time and place of the accident, parties, etc.) are common and generally accepted among all expert reports” and that this case was “relatively simple,” requiring the review of only basic evidence.

Arguments regarding whether Grill should have reviewed additional documents in formulating his opinion were considered by the Court to pertain to the weight, rather than the admissibility, of Grill’s testimony. The Court emphasized that the requirement for expert testimony to be based on “sufficient facts or data” involves a quantitative analysis rather than a qualitative one. The Court clarified that this requirement doesn’t authorize the exclusion of expert testimony based on the Court’s belief in one version of the facts over another. The Court cited Bluetooth SIG, Inc. v. FCA US LLC, 468 F. Supp. 3d 1342 (W.D. Wash. 2020), stating that the factual basis of an expert opinion goes to the credibility of the testimony, not its admissibility. Therefore, any issues concerning the materials deemed more appropriate for the expert to consult were deemed matters of weight, not admissibility, of the expert’s testimony.

The Court concluded that Grill’s failure to review all available evidence, including what the Defendants deemed essential, did not render his decision unreliable, at least under Rule 702. While the Defendants presented persuasive arguments highlighting deficiencies in Grill’s analysis due to his limited review of the evidence, on the other hand the Defendants conceded that the basic facts of the accident were not in dispute. As such, the Court determined that Plaintiffs were entitled to have their expert formulate an opinion based on “relatively simple” facts without rendering the opinion inadmissible under Rule 702. Therefore, the Court denied the Defendants’ motions to exclude Grill’s testimony.

Under Rule 37(c)(1), failure to disclose information required by Rule 26(a) may result in exclusion of evidence unless the failure is justified or harmless. To overcome Rule 37’s preclusive effect, a party must show substantial justification or harmlessness. The burden lies on the party facing sanctions to prove harmlessness. Factors guiding the Court in this determination include prejudice, the ability to cure the prejudice, trial disruption likelihood, and any bad faith or willfulness in nondisclosure. Exclusion of expert testimony is not appropriate if other less severe sanctions are available, especially when harm can be easily remedied.

On the deadline for expert disclosures, which was July 18, 2023, the Plaintiffs submitted a purported expert report from medical billing expert Sharla Paso. The two-page report asserted that the cost of Plaintiff Martin’s medical treatment was reasonable and necessary. However, the report lacked a basis for this opinion and mentioned that Paso was recently hired and in the process of reviewing the records. Subsequently, on the deadline for rebuttal expert disclosures, which was August 8, 2023, the Plaintiffs submitted a combined rebuttal expert report from Paso and her associate, Michele Cook. This report contained the complete opinions regarding the reasonableness of Plaintiff Martin’s medical treatment.

In their motion to strike, the Defendants argued that the reports should be excluded because the initial Paso report did not contain the required information under Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(2)(B), and the Paso/Cook report was not an appropriate subject for rebuttal testimony. The Defendants sought to strike the Paso/Cook reports and prohibit the testimony of these experts at trial. During oral argument, the Plaintiffs conceded that Paso’s initial expert report did not contain the required information as per Rule 26(a)(2)(B), and the opinions in the Paso/Cook report were not a proper subject for rebuttal testimony. Citing Grove City Veterinary Serv. v. Charter Practice Int’l., 3:13-cv-2276-AC (D. Or. Apr. 19, 2016), in this case it was acknowledged that if the purpose of expert testimony is to contradict an expected portion of the other party’s case-in-chief, then the witness is not a rebuttal witness. Plaintiffs attributed this error to counsel’s unfamiliarity with Rule 26’s expert disclosure requirements. Thus, it is undisputed that Plaintiffs failed to comply with Rule 26.

Exclusion of the experts was deemed unwarranted in this case. Any potential prejudice to the Defendants was considered easily curable by requiring Paso and/or Cook to undergo expert depositions, at the Plaintiffs’ expense. Additionally, Defendants were allowed to supplement their rebuttal reports if deemed necessary. Given that no trial date was set, both parties had ample opportunity to address and remedy any prejudice in advance of trial. Moreover, the Court noted that there is no evidence indicating bad faith or willfulness in the delayed disclosure of evidence. Consequently, the Defendants’ motion to strike the expert reports was denied, and instead, Plaintiffs were ordered to facilitate depositions for Paso and Cook, at their expense. Defendants were permitted to supplement their expert reports after these depositions.


The Court denied the Defendants’ motions to exclude the testimony of Lew Grill and also denied the Defendant’s motion to strike the expert reports of Passo/Cook. The following orders were issued:

1. Within fourteen (14) days from the date of the order, Plaintiffs were directed to submit separate and complete expert reports for either or both Paso and Cook.

2. Defendants were granted permission to depose Paso and/or Cook, with Plaintiffs being responsible for any expert fees associated with the deposition if conducted.

3. Defendants were allowed to supplement their rebuttal expert reports if deemed necessary.

The Court has not arrived on an outcome for this case since the remaining issues involved in this case still await resolution.

Key Takeaways

In the presented case, Plaintiffs brought a negligence action against Defendants following a multi-vehicle accident on I-84. The Plaintiff hired a trucking expert, Lew Grill, to provide an opinion on the Defendants’ alleged negligence in operating their vehicles and violating Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations. Defendants moved to exclude Grill’s testimony, arguing it lacked reliability due to a limited review of evidence. The Court, however, deemed Grill’s failure to consider additional documents as a matter concerning the weight, not admissibility of his testimony, and denied the motion. Another dispute arose the Plaintiffs’ failure to comply with their expert discovery obligations. The Court refrained from excluding the testimony in question, instead directing the concerned experts to submit to expert depositions, at Plaintiffs’ expense. These decisions underscore the importance of complying with disclosure rules and suggest that Courts prioritize addressing evidentiary issues through less severe sanctions when possible.

Case Details

Case CaptionMartin v. Hannu
Docket Number2:21cv364
CourtUnited States District Court, Oregon
Citation2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6658
Order DateJanuary 12, 2024


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