EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Western District of Louisiana Notes That Lay Witnesses May Be Able to Testify About Force-of-Impact in Car Crash Cases

Federal Rule of Evidence 701 provides that

If a witness is not testifying as an expert, testimony in the form of an opinion is limited to one that is:

(a) rationally based on the witness’s perception;

(b) helpful to clearly understanding the witness’s testimony or to determining a fact in issue; and

(c) not based on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge within the scope of Rule 702.

Rule 701 was amended in 2000, and the Advisory Committee's Note to that amendment states that

The amendment is not intended to affect the “prototypical example[s] of the type of evidence contemplated by the adoption of Rule 701 relat[ing] to the appearance of persons or things, identity, the manner of conduct, competency of a person, degrees of light or darkness, sound, size, weight, distance, and an endless number of items that cannot be described factually in words apart from inferences.”...

For example, most courts have permitted the owner or officer of a business to testify to the value or projected profits of the business, without the necessity of qualifying the witness as an accountant, appraiser, or similar expert.

So, could a lay witness testify about force-of-impact in a car crash case?

Barras v. Illinois Farmers Ins. Co., et al., 2021 WL 3725701 (W.D.La. 2021), is a car crash case, and the court ruled that

Defendants do not identify any lay witnesses in the pretrial order (or even their opposition memorandum) who would appear to be competent to present testimony regarding force-of-impact. While lay witnesses are not permitted to testify as to causation, they are at times qualified to render opinions regarding force-of-impact and/or the extent of damage to a vehicle based upon personal observations. Fed. R. Evid. 701; see also Merrells v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 33,404, p. 4 (La.App. 2 Cir. 6/21/00); 764 So.2d 1182, 1184 (defendant's property damage estimator, who had sixteen years of experience in automobile collision repair and had attended several GM and Chrysler schools to learn collision theory, could testify regarding the “force of impact” and “the damage to the bumper” of a vehicle in the underlying car accident based upon his personal observations and knowledge concerning the bumper's normal response at impact); Ambrose v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., CV 20-1011, 2021 WL 2284299, at *3 (E.D. La. June 4, 2021) (Defendant's repair estimator would be permitted to testify “with respect to the force of impact and the extent of damage to the vehicle based on his personal observations of the damaged vehicle,” but not as to “any correlation between the low impact of the collision or amount of property damage and the extent of Plaintiffs' injuries.”). In this matter, Defendants have not identified any lay witnesses in the pretrial order who have similar experience as those addressed in the foregoing cases. As the deadline for disclosure of such witnesses has passed, any such testimony will not be permitted at trial.

-CM

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2021/08/federal-rule-of-evidence-701-provides-that-if-a-witness-is-not-testifying-as-an-expert-testimony-in-the-form-of-an-opinion.html

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