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Delta Towing, L.L.C. v. Jeffrey Justrabo

Date Decided: November 9th, 2009
Originally Filed in: Louisiana (Federal)
Decided by: Louisiana Eastern District Court (Federal)
Court: USDC Eastern District of Louisiana
Judge: Judge Africk
Citation: 2009 WL 3763868 (ED LA 2009)

Background:
Before this Court were two motions in limine to exclude expert testimony. Plaintiff, Jeffrey Justrabo ("Justrabo"), was a deckhand aboard the M/V Delta Traveler, owned and operated by defendant, Delta Towing, L.L.C. ("Delta").

Justrabo filed this action under the Jones Act, alleging he suffered his injuries as a result of Delta's negligence and unseaworthiness of the M/V Delta Traveler. Moreover, Justrabo sought damages for maintenance and cure, past pain and suffering, future pain and suffering, lost wages, and past and future medical expenses.

Delta has filed a motion in limine to strike the expert testimony of John Mander and Robert Borrison. Justrabo filed a motion to strike the expert testimony of Ronald Campana,.


Issues:
Did this Court grant both or either motions in limine to strike expert testimony?

Held:
Delta, sought to exclude Manders' testimony because it contains "little more than inadmissible legal conclusions and provides no opinion which might assist this Court in rendering judgment".

This Court found that Manders' report contained some inadmissible legal conclusions such as the conclusion that Delta employees acted negligently and the ship was unseaworthy. However, this Court also found that Manders' report also contained admissible opinions as to whether the Delta crew acted prudently and as to the safety of the vessel. Accordingly, this Court declined to strike Manders' entire testimony but would not permit him to testify to objectionable legal conclusions.

Also, Delta attempted to strike another expert's testimony, Robert Borison a crane safety expert. Delta argued that Borison does not have the requisite experience or knowledge to render an opinion in this case. Specifically, Delta contended that Borison has never been employed as an offshore crane operator and he is not qualified to render expert testimony with respect to back-loading cargo on a vessel.

Borison is a certified crane operator and has experience as a crane safety supervisor and experience working on offshore vessels.  As such, this Court found that Borison's experience qualified him to testify as a crane safety expert.

Finally, Justrabo moved to strike defendants' expert's, Ronald Campana, testimony. Justrabo argued that it (1) lacks a complete statement of all data and information considered, (2) portions of the stated opinions fail to express the basis and reasons for such opinions and (3) the information relied upon by the expert is incomplete and based on insufficient data and pure speculation. However, this Court found that the report complied with the applicable rule of disclosure for expert reports and that Justrabo has the opportunity to cross examine the expert. This Court noted that Campana's report was admissible because it described the matters about which he will testify and the basis for his opinions.

Accordingly this Court denied both Justrabo's and Delta's motions to exclude expert testimony.


Comments:
At issue in this case was the admissibility of expert opinion testimony. Typically, an expert will submit a report to the Court outlining both (1) how he will testify on certain matters and (2) the basis for, or how he reached his conclusion, testifying.

An expert may not testify to legal conclusions, such as "it is my opinion that the defendant was negligent in crane operation". However, he may testify, if he has a sufficient base of expertise, that "the crane was not operated in accordance with typical safety standards". Here, one of the plaintiff's experts' legal reports had legal conclusion. Rather than strike the entire report, the Court precluded the expert from testifying on the legal conclusions but would allow him to give his opinion whether the crew acted prudently and to the safety of the vessel.

Steve Gordon


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Delta Towing, L.L.C.

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