A federal judge in St. Louis has dismissed a product liability suit against General Motors because the plaintiff's expert based his defective design opinion on videotapes of dissimilar crashes and proposed only untested and unverified alternative designs.
The suit involved a 1988 GMC Vandura van that Judy Pillow was driving when she rear-ended a pickup. The driver of the pickup settled for a minimal amount.
GM's lawyer, Dan Ball of St. Louis, said the decision is significant because it rejects unsubstantiated expert opinions in product liability suits.
'It's not uncommon for experts to come with theories without doing their own testing and analysis,' Ball said.
Pillow's suit against GM alleged that the brake system cylinder had been designed defectively and that the master cylinder should have been repositioned to avoid transmitting dangerous force to the brake pedal in a crash.
Her theory was that, as designed, the brake pedal thrust rearward with significant force, seriously injuring her ankle.
GM denied there was any defect in the van and successfully argued that Pillow's expert, H. Boulter Kelsey Jr., 'was basing his opinion on a GM crash test that didn't bear substantial similarity to the van's crash,' Ball said.
U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson agreed, saying Kelsey did not conduct an independent crash test. Instead, his opinion relied largely on a review of GM documents concerning the same model and a videotape of the same model's crash test depicting an accident that differed from Pillow's.
'Essentially, his testimony and theories are extrapolated from crash tests of dubious similarity,' Jackson said. 'His anticipated testimony consists entirely of untested opinions.'
For example, the videotape showed a test van striking a fixed, immovable barrier at a speed faster than Pillow's. The angles of impact were not the same, and there was some underride in Pillow's crash when the nose of her van went under the rear of the pickup, but not in the test crash.
Jackson said Kelsey failed to test his own proposed redesign and didn't demonstrate that it is feasible or meets government standards.
She said the case must be dismissed because valid expert testimony is necessary to prove that the van was in a defective condition and unreasonably dangerous when Pillow used it.
Pillow's lawyer declined to discuss the case.