Mechanical Engineering Expert Witness' Opinions on Vessel Design and Operations Rejected

Mechanical Engineering Expert Witness’ Opinions on Vessel Design and Operations Rejected

This matter concerns a maritime personal injury. On May 19, 2023, Bunting filed this case against Odyssea, alleging claims for Jones Act negligence, unseaworthiness, and negligence under general maritime law and state law, and seeking damages for injuries to his back, legs, knees, and feet. 


In March 2018, Odyssea hired Bunting to work as a vessel captain. Bunting worked on vessels for 30 years and was a licensed captain for 20 of those years. In May 2021, Odyssea assigned Bunting to the M/V Odyssea Titan (“Odyssea Titan”), a 225-foot offshore supply vessel that is inspected and properly documented by the United States Coast Guard.

On April 20, 2022, the Odyssea Titan departed from Fourchon, Louisiana, to conduct cargo operations at drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. During the voyage, Bunting and the first mate, Robert Weiss, alternated 12-hour watches, with Bunting being on duty from noon to midnight. Around 9:00 a.m., on May 25, 2022, Bunting was off duty and sleeping when he was awakened upon being bounced up and down in his bunk as the vessel was conducting cargo operations. Bunting went to the bridge to investigate why the vessel was “slamming” so heavily. He discovered that Weiss, at the direction of the platform’s crane operator, had positioned the vessel so that its stern was facing directly into the waves.

Bunting retained G. Fred Liebkemann, IV as his liability expert. Liebkemann, a licensed mechanical engineer, holds a bachelor’s of science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Miami (1986), and completed one-and-a-half years of post-graduate study in mechanical engineering at Louisiana State University.

Odyssea filed a motion to exclude or limit Liebkemann’s proposed testimony from trial because his opinions did not relate to his area of expertise – mechanical engineering – but rather addressed vessel design and operations, topics about which he is unqualified to render expert opinions.

Mechanical Engineering Expert Witness

G. Fred Liebkemann, IV, a licensed mechanical engineer, holds a bachelor’s of science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Miami (1986), and completed one-anda-half years of post-graduate study in mechanical engineering at Louisiana State University. He also has a certificate of achievement in automobile accident reconstruction.

He has designed several pieces of equipment, including cranes and other material handling equipment, oilfield equipment and structures, and certain kinds of vessels and marine components.

See G. Fred Liebkemann’s broader expert witness experience beyond Bunting V. Odyssea Marine, Inc. with our in-depth Expert Witness Profile.

Discussion by the Court

In his April 8, 2024 report, Liebkemann discussed the facts of the incident that he gleaned from Bunting’s deposition, specifically, that Bunting was thrown into the air while he slept because the vessel was slamming when floating high in the water with its stern facing the waves. Then, citing a study from 1970, Liebkemann explained the concept of vessel slamming, stating that it occurs when a vessel is lightly loaded and positioned with its stern facing rough waves.

Liebkemann ends his report by stating six opinions:

  1. On account of its design, the Odyssea Titan experiences slamming when lightly loaded while station keeping in moderate following seas.
  2. The role of the vessel when attending the customer’s platform involves station keeping per the customer’s requirements. These requirements often place constraints on both the position and the heading of the vessel.
  3. The ability of the vessel’s master to correct the slamming issue by adding seawater ballast aft of the vessel’s center of gravity is curtailed by the reservation of all suitably sized and located tanks for cargo. Unwritten rules enforced by the owner’s office staff effectively prevent the use of cargo tanks for seawater ballast.
  4. The conflict between the role of the vessel and the capabilities of the vessel is not addressed [in] the portions of the SMS document shared to date. The Operations Manual for the Odyssea Titan has not been provided to date.
  5. Standing instructions to avoid headings that induce severe slamming of the stern while station keeping would have prevented the incident.
  6. Captain Bunting was off duty and asleep in his bunk when he was injured. No action of his contributed to his injury.

Liebkemann is not a naval architect or marine engineer

Odyssea also contended that Liebkemann is unqualified to render the opinions set forth in his report because he is not a naval architect or marine engineer and the Court has never accepted him as an expert in either of those fields. With respect to Liebkemann’s specific opinions, Odyssea argued that Liebkemann parroted Bunting’s testimony; Liebkemann’s commentary on bottom slamming and his opinion regarding the vessel’s design fell within the expertise of a naval architect, not a mechanical engineer; and Liebkemann improperly relied on an outdated and inapposite study to support his statements. Also, Odyssea urged the Court to exclude Liebkemann’s calculations on draft and weight because they are incomplete and, thus, misleading and confusing. As to Liebkemann’s remining five opinions, Odyseea argued that they relate to vessel operations, a topic on which Liebkemann is unqualified to render opinions as he has no experience in that area.

Bunting indicated that, at a client’s request, Liebkemann once took over a project for a certified marine architect. As to Liebkemann’s remaining five opinions, Bunting argued that Liebkemann’s experience as a crane operator qualified him to opine on vessel operations.

The Court held that Liebkemann cannot offer any of his proposed opinions regarding the cause or effect of vessel slamming or any potential remedy. The Court considered his opinions as untethered from his actual area of expertise, mechanical engineering. He has no education or experience in overall vessel design, nor did he perform any calculations demonstrating the forces at work on the Odyssea Titan at the time of the incident.

Although he may have some experience in crane operations, this case is about the operation and handling of a vessel, not a crane.

Liebkemann’s last opinion is a legal conclusion

Liebkemann’s last opinion – viz., that Bunting did not contribute to his injury – is a legal conclusion and did not fall within the province of an expert. As a whole, the Court concluded that Liebkemann will bring no more to the jury than will be available through Bunting’s testimony and lawyer argument.


The Court granted Odyssea’s motion to exclude or limit Liebkemann’s proposed testimony from trial because his opinions failed to satisfy the requirements of Rule 702.

Key Takeaway:

Rule 702 also requires that an expert be properly qualified. Generally, if there is some reasonable indication of qualifications, the district court may admit the expert’s testimony, and then the expert’s qualifications become an issue for the trier of fact. A witness qualified as an expert is not strictly confined to his area or practice but may testify regarding related applications; a lack of specialization goes to the weight, not the admissibility of the opinion. While nobody challenged Liebkemann’s qualifications as a mechanical engineer, his report and deposition demonstrate that he is not qualified to render his proposed expert opinions because those opinions concern principles of naval architecture, marine engineering, and vessel operations or, more precisely, ship handling or vessel maneuvering.

The Court excluded Liebkemann’s testimony from trial due to his lack of qualifications in the fields of naval architecture, marine engineering, and vessel operations, and because it is not more likely than not that his specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact.

Case Details:

Case Caption:Bunting V. Odyssea Marine, Inc.
Docket Number:2:23cv1712
Court Name:United States District Court, Louisiana Eastern
Order Date:May 6, 2024


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *