Testimony by Accident Reconstruction Expert Witness Regarding Missouri Statute Violation Limited

Testimony by Accident Reconstruction Expert Witness Regarding Missouri Statute Violation Limited

A district judge in Missouri partly excluded the testimony of an expert accident reconstructionist retained to opine on the safety of the crossing.

The case began with a train-vehicle collision near Mineral Point, Missouri, on August 19, 2019. Anthony Courtois drove a 2007 Freightliner dump truck westward toward North Oak Road’s railroad crossing. As he approached, an Amtrak train travelled southbound on Union Pacific-owned tracks. Courtois claimed he didn’t see the train due to excessive vegetation along the tracks until it was too late, leading to the collision.

The Plaintiff sued Union Pacific and Amtrak, alleging negligence. He claimed they did not maintain the crossing or warn of danger. They had also failed to issue slow orders, sound the train’s horn in a timely and safe manner, or adjust speed safely.

During discovery, the Plaintiff disclosed James Loumiet as an expert witness. The Defendants jointly sought to limit or exclude Loumiet’s testimony under Daubert grounds. They argued his opinions on the crossing’s danger should be excluded under Federal and Missouri law. They also claimed Loumiet’s opinions were flawed for considering irrelevant factors, applying the wrong standard of care, and lacking an adequate foundation.

Accident Reconstruction Expert Witness

James Loumiet holds a degree in mechanical engineering. He possesses over 37 years of professional experience, including 34 years specializing in accident reconstruction. He conducted a personal inspection of the North Oak Road crossing, taking precise measurements and photographs. Additionally, he reviewed various documents, such as crash reports, photographs, and a video of the collision recorded from the locomotive.

Get the full story on challenges to James Loumiet’s expert opinions and testimony with an in-depth Challenge Study. 

Discussion by the Court

A. Expert Report of James Loumiet

James Loumiet prepared an expert report in which he highlighted several critical observations about the North Oak Road crossing. He noted the presence of sight-restricting trees and vegetation in all four quadrants of the crossing. Further, he analyzed the road’s grade leading to the crossing, identifying a humped profile and a steep uphill grade on the east approach, the direction from which the Plaintiff approached. He also examined the topography of the crossing, noting the road was curved west of the crossing and the tracks were curved through and around the crossing on both sides. Furthermore, Loumiet observed that the grade crossing traffic control consisted of stop signs and private crossing signs.

In his expert report, Loumiet concluded the North Oak Road crossing was extrahazardous at the time of the collision. Additionally, the Plaintiff disclosed Loumiet so as to testify about the crossing’s extrahazardous nature as a causative factor in the collision.

B. Defendant’s Argument

In their motion, the Defendants did not contest Loumiet’s qualifications. Instead, they argued that relevant case law prohibited experts from testifying about the dangerousness of a railroad crossing, thus his opinions should be excluded. Furthermore, the Defendants contended that Loumiet’s opinions were inadmissible as they would usurp the jury’s role as the factfinder. Additionally, the Defendants claimed that Loumiet mischaracterized the duties of a Missouri driver, made improper legal conclusions, and relied on factors irrelevant to the collision, as well as materials not adopted under Missouri law.

An expert could not testify that a crossing was unusually dangerous or extrahazardous

Defendants argued that Courts consistently recognized an expert could not testify that a crossing was unusually dangerous or extrahazardous. They asserted that Loumiet tried to increase the railroad’s legal duties while diminishing those of the driver. Additionally, Defendants claimed that Loumiet’s reliance on a sight distance table from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) was inappropriate because Missouri law had not adopted this standard for railroad crossings, and it applied to new, not existing, crossings.

Lastly, Defendants argued that they should bar Loumiet from testifying that Union Pacific violated Missouri Revised Statutes Section 389.665(2), which concerned the clearing of vegetation at public crossings.

Loumiet was being offered to testify as to the safety of the crossing

The Court disagreed with Defendants’ characterization of the incident as a mere “car accident.” It involved a collision between a dump truck and a passenger train at a rural railroad crossing. The Court noted average jurors lack experience in dump truck driving, train operation, or railroad crossing maintenance. Federal Rule of Evidence 702 allows qualified experts to offer opinion testimony to aid jury comprehension or fact determination.

Moreover, the Court held that Loumiet was not being offered to testify about whether the Plaintiff met his legal duties as a driver on the day of the collision. Instead, he was supposed to testify about the crossing’s safety. The Court decided not to exclude Loumiet’s testimony based on Defendants’ argument that the expert allegedly minimized or ignored Plaintiff’s duty of care.

The Court found that Section 389.665(2) did not apply to this case as the North Oak Road crossing was not a public crossing within the meaning of the statute. Consequently, the Court granted Defendants’ Daubert motion to the extent that Loumiet would be prohibited from testifying that Union Pacific violated Missouri Revised Statutes Section 389.665(2). In all other respects, the Court denied Defendants’ motion to exclude or limit the testimony of James Loumiet.


The Court partially granted the Defendant’s Motion to Exclude the expert testimony of James Loumiet.

Key Takeaway:

The Court found that the expertise of Loumiet would assist the jury in understanding complex issues surrounding railroad crossings, such as maintenance and safety standards. Additionally, the Court clarified that Loumiet’s testimony was focused on the safety of the crossing rather than opining on the Plaintiff’s legal duties as a driver. However, the Court partially granted the Defendants’ motion regarding Loumiet’s testimony on a specific statute violation, noting that it did not apply to the case.

Case Details:

 Case Caption:Courtois v. Union Pacific R.R. Co.
 Docket Number:4:22cv133
 Court:United States District Court, Missouri Eastern
 Order Date:May 30, 2024


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