MARIA E. THOMPSON
DENNIS L. HOLLIMAN AND ALLSTATE PROPERTY AND CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY
OF JUDGMENT: 07/27/2018
HARRISON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. LAWRENCE PAUL BOURGEOIS,
COURT ATTORNEYS: SUSAN CHRISTINA DEHGHANI-SANICH MICHAEL
SCOTT BISHOP ROBERT W. ATKINSON ROBERT ELLIOTT BRIGGS, III
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: MICHAEL SCOTT BISHOP SUSAN CHRISTINA
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: ROBERT W. ATKINSON MYLES ETHAN SHARP
Maria Thompson filed a complaint against Dennis Holliman and
Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company
("Allstate") in the County Court of the Second
Judicial District of Harrison County, alleging that Holliman
had negligently operated his motor vehicle while pulling a
trailer in a gas-station parking lot, resulting in a
collision in which she was injured. A Harrison County jury
returned a verdict in favor of Holliman, and the circuit
court entered a judgment consistent with the jury verdict.
Aggrieved, Thompson appealed, alleging that the trial court
had abused its discretion by excluding her expert witness.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On April 7, 2013, Thompson and Holliman were involved in a
motor-vehicle collision in the parking lot of a privately
owned gas station in Biloxi, Mississippi. Holliman's
Chevrolet Silverado and attached trailer collided with
Thompson's Nissan Maxima as Holliman was driving through
the gas-pump bay and as Thompson was exiting the lot.
On June 9, 2014, Thompson sued Holliman in the County Court
of Harrison County, Mississippi, Second Judicial District,
alleging that Holliman negligently drove through the
gas-station parking lot. According to Thompson, she sustained
serious bodily injuries and sought damages for bills and
medical treatment, loss of wages, physical pain and
suffering, and mental and emotional distress.
On March 22, 2016, Thompson filed a supplemental designation
of expert witness designating Jason Walton as an
accident-reconstruction expert. Attached to the motion were
Walton's curriculum vitae and expert report,
which included a review of the Harrison County Sheriff's
Department parking-lot accident report, a photograph taken at
the scene of the collision, photographs of both vehicles
involved in the collision, Google Earth imagery of the
collision area, and deposition testimony of Thompson and
Holliman filed a motion in limine to strike Walton's
expert testimony because his report did not provide
calculations or data supporting his opinions. On June 9,
2016, the trial court entered an order granting
Holliman's motion to strike. The trial court stated that
an opinion of an expert "must be based on some
scientific data with certain principals and methodology . . .
. [and] the facts of the case at hand." The court found
that Walton's use of a "typical" vehicle
standard was inadequate. The court concluded that
Walton's report was not "the product of reliable
principles and methods"; he was in "no better
position than the trier of fact to conclude whether
[Holliman's] actions were negligent"; and his
opinion would not be helpful to the jury.
Thompson redesignated Walton and provided the court with an
amended expert report. In this amended report, Walton
measured the average speed of vehicles at the collision site.
Holliman again filed another motion to strike Walton's
testimony. On October 7, 2016, the trial court held a hearing
on the matter and entered an order granting Holliman's
motion to strike. In a trial held on October 19 and 20, 2016,
a jury found in Holliman's favor.
Thompson appealed the decision to the Circuit Court of the
Second Judicial District of Harrison County to review the
trial court's exclusion of Walton's testimony. On
July 27, 2018, the circuit court entered an order affirming
the judgment of the trial court. In the order, the court
stated that, "[w]ithout a set of protocols [for driving
in a parking lot], an opinion as to fault or negligence would
not have basis."
Additionally, the court held that Walton's methodology of
"observing the speed of . . . vehicles [in the] gas pump
bays and calculating an average speed fails to . . . give
consideration to the tow load of Holliman's truck [and
those used in the experiment], . . . compare the tested
vehicles with the vehicles of the parties, . . . and
adequately describe the conditions of the parking lot."
The court also found no evidence that "Walton's
methodology was generally accepted in the field of accident
On August 23, 2018, Thompson filed a notice of appeal to this
Court. This Court finds that the trial court did not err by
excluding Walton as an expert witness.
Standard of Review
The standard of review for the admission or exclusion of
evidence, such as expert testimony, is abuse of discretion.
Inv'r Res. Servs., Inc. v. Cato, 15 So.3d 412,
416 (Miss. 2009) (citing Adcock v. Miss. Transp.
Comm'n, 981 So.2d 942, 946 (Miss. 2008)).
Whether the trial court abused its discretion by excluding
Thompson's expert witness.
Mississippi Rule of Evidence 702 states,
A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill,
experience, training, or education may testify in the form of
an opinion or otherwise if:
(a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other
specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to
understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and
methods to the facts of the case. M.R.E. 702.
"The trial court is vested with a 'gatekeeping
responsibility.'" Miss. Transp. Comm'n v.
McLemore, 863 So.2d 31, 36 (Miss. 2003) (quoting
Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579,
588-89, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993)). "The
trial court must make a 'preliminary assessment of
whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony
is scientifically valid and of whether that reasoning and
methodology properly can be applied to the facts in
issue.'" Id. (quoting Daubert, 509
U.S. at 592-93). "This rule makes it necessary for a
trial court to apply a two-pronged inquiry when evaluating
the admissibility of expert testimony: (1) is the witness
qualified, and (2) is the testimony relevant and
reliable?" McKee v. Bowers Window & Door
Co., 64 So.3d 926, 932 (Miss. 2011) (internal quotation
marks omitted) (quoting Watts v. Radiator Specialty
Co., 990 So.2d 143, 146 (Miss. 2008)).
Walton concluded that Holliman's actions had been the
sole proximate cause of the collision. Specifically, Walton
stated that Holliman failed to yield to oncoming traffic and
failed to maintain a proper lookout in a situation that would
require a heightened level of awareness. Holliman stated that
he did not see Thompson until just before impact. Thompson
stated that she saw Holliman and thought he was pulling into
the gas-pump bay and not exiting the parking lot. Walton