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X Yehoshua Schwartz and Michelle v. Caravan Trucking

February 17, 2011

X YEHOSHUA SCHWARTZ AND MICHELLE SCHWARTZ, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CARAVAN TRUCKING, L.L.C. AND
(KAM)(ALC) WILLIE ELLIOT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: X Matsumoto, United States District Judge:

ORDER ADOPTING AND MODIFYING REPORT & RECOMMENDATION

In this personal injury action arising from a motor vehicle accident which occurred on Rockaway Boulevard in Queens County, defendants Caravan Trucking, L.L.C. ("Caravan") and Willie Elliot ("Elliot") (together, "defendants") move to preclude the expert witness of plaintiffs Yehoshua Schwartz ("Schwartz") and Michelle Schwartz (together, "plaintiffs"). (See ECF No. 28, Defs. 10/13/2010 Ltr.; ECF No. 30, Pls. 10/27/2010 Ltr.) The Honorable Andrew L. Carter has issued a Report and Recommendation dated January 5, 2011 ("R&R") recommending that defendants' motion be granted in part and denied in part. (See R&R at 1.) Defendants have timely objected to the R&R and plaintiffs have responded. (See ECF No. 33, Defs. 1/20/2011 Ltr.; ECF No. 34, Pls. 1/20/2011 Ltr.) Having undertaken a de novo review of the record in light of defendants' written objections pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), the court adopts and modifies the R&R for the reasons that follow.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs claim that the negligence, recklessness, and carelessness of defendants caused an accident on July 8, 2008 on Rockaway Boulevard in Queens involving Schwartz, who was operating a motorcycle, and Elliot, who was operating a truck belonging to defendant Caravan. (See generally ECF No. 1, Compl.) Plaintiffs seek to call Steven A. Coulon ("Coulon") as an accident reconstruction expert at trial. (See Pls. 10/27/2010 Ltr.)

Specifically, plaintiffs seek to elicit expert testimony from Coulon regarding Coulon's findings as follows:

(1) that Elliot had a clear view of opposing traffic and "could have and should have seen the oncoming motorcycle" before the accident ("Finding Number One"); (2) that Schwartz's motorcycle is equipped with an automatic headlight switch and that the "headlight of the motorcycle driven by Mr. Schwartz would have been on and visible to" Elliot at the time of the accident ("Finding Number Two"); (3) that Elliot made an illegal left turn in violation of New York Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1163 ("Finding Number Three"); (4) that Elliott made a left turn after the left turn arrow changed to a full green ball in violation of New York Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1141 ("Finding Number Four"); (5) that Mr. Schwartz had "insufficient time and distance in which to successfully avoid the impact with" the truck operated by Elliott turning in front of him ("Finding Number Five"); and (6) that the lack of collision damage to the truck operated by Elliott coupled with the damage to the motorcycle operated by Schwartz "is indicative of a relatively low crash speed" and further indicative that Schwartz was not travelling at a rate of excessive speed ("Finding Number Six"). (See id. at 17.) Defendants moved to preclude Coulon's testimony in its entirety, and plaintiffs opposed. (See Defs. 10/13/2010 Ltr.; Pls. 10/27/2010 Ltr.)

In the R&R, Judge Carter first found that Coulon possessed relevant skills and experience to be qualified as an expert on "the physical mechanics of a motor vehicle accident." (See R&R at 3.) Judge Carter then recommended granting defendants' motion to preclude Coulon's testimony with respect to Finding Numbers Three and Four because he found that such findings were conclusions of law and therefore inappropriate subjects of expert testimony. (Id. at 4.) Judge Carter further recommended denying defendants' motion to preclude Coulon's testimony in all other respects and specifically permitting plaintiffs to elicit testimony from Coulon regarding Finding Numbers One, Two, Five, and Six. (See R&R at 4-6.) Defendants have timely objected to the R&R's recommendation with respect to Finding Numbers One, Two, Five, and Six and renew their motion to preclude Coulon's testimony in its entirety on the grounds that "the jury simply does not need an expert" to testify regarding Coulon's proposed findings because the parties and non-party witness will provide "full and detailed testimony . . . which any layperson can understand" regarding these same issues. (See Defs. 1/20/2011 Ltr.)

DISCUSSION

I.LEGAL STANDARDS

A.REVIEW OF A REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

To the extent that a party makes specific and timely

objections to a magistrate's findings, the court must apply a de novo standard of review. United States v. Male Juvenile, 121 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 1997); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). Upon such de novo review, the district court "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). However, where no objection to a Report and Recommendation has been filed, the district court "need only satisfy itself that that there is no clear error on the face of the record." Urena v. New York, 160 F. Supp. 2d 606, 609-10 (S.D.N.Y. 2001) (quoting Nelson v. Smith, 618 F. Supp. 1186, 1189 (S.D.N.Y. 1985).

B.DAUBERT MOTIONS TO PRECLUDE EXPERT TESTIMONY Because "[e]xpert evidence can be both powerful an quite misleading," district courts must perform a "gatekeeping" function to ensure, prior to admission of expert testimony at trial, that the expert's testimony "rests on a reliable foundation and is relevant to the task at hand." Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharms. Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 595, 597 (1993) (internal citation omitted). The district court's responsibility to ensure that expert testimony is "not only relevant, but reliable," id. at 589, is generally thought of as requiring four interrelated inquiries to determine: (1) whether the witness is qualified as an expert to testify as to a particular matter; (2) whether the testimony is reliable, (3) whether the testimony is relevant; and (4) whether the testimony will "assist the trier of fact." See Nimely v. City of N.Y., 414 F.3d 381, 397 (2d Cir. 2005). The proponent of the expert testimony has the burden of establishing the ...


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