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Wallace v. Ford Motor Co.

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

June 28, 2013

NATHANIEL WALLACE, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant.

ORDER

CARLTON W. REEVES, District Judge.

Before the Court is Ford Motor Company's motion to exclude the expert opinions of Robert Carbonara and Tim Carpenter, and if excluded, motion for summary judgment on the manufacturing defect claim those experts support. Plaintiff Nathaniel Wallace, Jr. has responded in opposition and Ford has replied. The motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Factual and Procedural History

On July 6, 2008, Mississippi State Trooper Nathaniel Wallace, Jr. was driving his state-issued 2008 Ford Crown Victoria in Clarke County, Mississippi, while on duty. The vehicle ran off the road and struck a tree, causing him to suffer injuries.

In July 2011, Wallace filed this suit in the Circuit Court of Hinds County, Mississippi, bringing a variety of negligence, warranty, contract, and product liability claims against Ford. Ford removed the case to this Court shortly thereafter.

The parties agree that a bolt in the vehicle's suspension system fractured, but differ on whether that fracture was a cause or a consequence of the crash. Wallace contends that the bolt was defectively manufactured and that its failure caused him to lose control of the vehicle. Ford argues that the accident was caused by Wallace's speed - approximately 60 mph in a 55 mph zone, it asserts - while traveling on wet pavement, and that the accident's impact caused the bolt to fracture, not the other way around.

II. The Experts

A. Robert Carbonara

Carbonara is a Ph.D. with training and experience in materials science and failure analysis, among other related fields. Docket No. 129-1. According to a microscopic analysis he conducted, the bolt in the subject vehicle "failed as the result of fatigue." Docket No. 123-1, at 1. Carbonara claims that had the nut been properly installed with a plastic retention insert, the forces on the bolt would have been reduced and would not have led to that fatigue. He opines that "the lack of the retention insert in the ball-joint nut is a manufacturing defect" which caused the bolt failure and Wallace's accident. Id.

Ford argues that Carbonara "should be excluded because no facts, scientific data, or testing support his opinion that the failure of the ball joint stud caused the loss of control in the subject crash." Docket No. 124, at 3. Citing Carbonara's deposition testimony, Ford claims he "has no basis for opining that the vehicle cannot be steered if the ball joint stud fails." Id. at 4. The fact that Ford recalled certain Crown Victorias in 1998 does not help him, it asserts, because the ball joint assembly changed in the intervening decade. Id. at 7-8.

B. Tim Carpenter

Carpenter is the Parts and Service Director for Gray-Daniels Toyota and has approximately 30 years of experience in the field of automotive mechanics. Docket No. 123-7. According to his expert report, the bolt failure led to separation of the vehicle's lower control arm, which in turn made the vehicle unsteerable. Docket No. 123-8. Carpenter opines that rust spots inside the bolt indicate that a defect in the bolt casting process at the factory led to the bolt's eventual failure. Id.

Ford contends that Carpenter "should be excluded because he is not qualified to offer any of the opinions offered in his report and deposition." Docket No. 124, at 2. Although he has experience in automotive mechanics, Ford says his "ultimate opinion" is metallurgical in nature, which is outside the scope of Carpenter's expertise. Id. at 9.

III. Legal Standards

A. Expert Testimony

The admissibility of expert testimony is governed by Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), and the post- Daubert amendments to Federal Rule of Evidence 702. See Guy v. Crown Equipment Corp., 394 ...


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