Three aviation engineering experts are not qualified to testify in an auto defect suit, a federal judge in Winston-Salem, N.C., has ruled.
They have no expertise in automotive engineering, Senior U.S. Judge Richard Erwin said, so their testimony would merely be 'speculation and conjecture.'
He allowed the plaintiff to select another expert with a background in auto engineering.
The case was filed by Gayle Ellen Motsinger, who was injured seriously in a 1991 single-vehicle accident involving her 1990 Hyundai Excel. Her suit initially alleged defects in the lap-belt receptacle and the driver's seat back, but she withdrew the seat-back-related claim.
Motsinger apparently lost control when another car swerved toward her. She hit a culvert and was ejected. The car rolled over on her, crushing her pelvis and causing other injuries requiring more than 18 operations.
Hyundai denies any defect in the Excel's seat-belt system.
Defense lawyer Kirk Warner of Raleigh said, 'Our position is she wasn't wearing the lap belt. There's no way she can have a false latching condition in this situation.'
While Motsinger's experts have 'solid credentials in their chosen work,' Erwin said they are unqualified to offer opinions on automotive design, accident reconstruction or occupant kinematic issues involved in the suit against Hyundai.
Mark Rabil, the Winston-Salem lawyer representing Motsinger, said Erwin's decision is limiting for plaintiffs in product liability suits.
'Usually you think of an expert as someone more qualified than the average juror,' he said, adding that the three original experts fit that definition.
But he added: 'Probably the judge did us a favor because we now have an expert from the automotive industry.'
Trial is scheduled for October.