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Ream v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

June 24, 2019

ANNA REAM, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          ORDER

          THE HONORABLE RICHARD A. JONES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's motions in limine. Dkt. # 25. For the reasons stated above, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's motions.

         II. BACKGROUND

         This matter is set for trial on July 1, 2019. The details of Plaintiff's allegations are set forth in the Order on the parties' motions for summary judgment and will not be repeated here. See Dkt. # 24.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Parties may file motions in limine before or during trial “to exclude anticipated prejudicial evidence before the evidence is actually offered.” Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 40 n. 2 (1984). To decide on the motions in limine, the Court is generally guided by Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 401 and 403. Specifically, the Court considers whether evidence “has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence, ” and whether “the fact is of consequence in determining the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 401. However, the Court may exclude relevant evidence if “its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 403.

         The Court notes that the findings and conclusions in this order, like all rulings in limine, are preliminary and can be revisited at trial based on the facts and evidence as they are actually presented. See, e.g., Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 (1984) (explaining that a ruling in limine “is subject to change when the case unfolds, particularly if the actual testimony differs from what was contained in the proffer. Indeed even if nothing unexpected happens at trial, the district judge is free, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, to alter a previous in limine ruling.”). Subject to these principles, the Court issues these rulings for the guidance of the parties.[1]

         A. Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 1

          Plaintiff moves to exclude evidence that a party other than the United States was at fault for the collision. Dkt. # 25 at 3. Plaintiff's motion, however, focuses primarily on excluding evidence regarding the cause of Plaintiff's injuries. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that any evidence that her treating doctor performed an imprudent or improper surgery should be excluded. Id. at 3. Plaintiff notes, citing various treatises and Washington case law, that it has uniformly been held that the original tortfeastor is liable for aggravation of the original injury cause by negligent treatment. Id. at 3-4. Defendant United States (the government) argues that Plaintiff has the burden of proving that the United States' actions are the proximate cause of her claimed injuries and that it should not be precluded from presenting evidence on this disputed issue. Dkt. # 28 at 4-5.

         The Court agrees. The summary judgment order established that the United States breached the requisite duty of care as a matter of law. See Dkt. # 24. However, a plaintiff must still prove that the defendant's negligence was the proximate cause of her claimed injuries. See, e.g., Torno v. Hayek, 135 P.3d 536 (Wash. App. 2006) (permitting evidence on causation and damages during trial following admitted liability car accident). To the extent Plaintiff seeks to preclude such evidence, the motion is DENIED.

         B. Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 2

          Plaintiff moves to exclude Defendant's experts, Wilson C. “Toby” Hayes, Ph.D. and Erik D. Power, P.E., from offering medical inferences on Plaintiff's injuries. Dkt. # 25 at 5. Plaintiff cites several Washington state cases for the proposition that the relationship between an accident to resulting physical condition must be established by medical testimony. Id. Moreover, Plaintiff argues that opinions regarding what injuries an “average occupant” would sustain are irrelevant. Id. Defendant argues that Power performed a collision reconstruction using widely accepted methods based upon the fundamental laws of physics for which he is qualified to opine. Dkt. # 28 at 5-6. As for Hayes, Defendant claims that his extensive background satisfies the Daubert standard for testimony regarding medical causation and that, under federal law, the fact that he is not a medical doctor, at best, goes to the weight and not the admissibility of his testimony. Id. at 8-9.

         An expert opinion is reliable under the Daubert test for determining admissibility of expert testimony if the knowledge underlying it has a reliable basis in the knowledge and experience of the relevant discipline. Fed.R.Evid. 702. In this case, Power is an Engineering Associate at Hayesˋ⡲⚭, a Registered Professional Mechanical Engineer, and Fully Accredited Traffic Accident Reconstructionist. Dkt. # 29-1. He has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering (with a Biomedical Option), both from Virginia Tech. Id. Hayes has more than 50 years of teaching, research and consulting experience in fields ranging across mechanical engineering, experimental mechanics, accident reconstruction, occupant dynamics, injury biomechanics, human functional anatomy, and clinical orthopaedics. Dkt. # 30, ¶ 4. Furthermore, as Vice Chairman for Research in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Hayes attended x-ray rounds, often on a daily basis, offering advice to residents and house staff on the mechanisms and treatment of musculoskeletal injuries. Dkt. # 26-5. The injury assessment performed by Power and Hayes consists of a three-step approach that appears in ...


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