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Drug Withdrawal and Expert Testimony in a Texas Truck Accident Case

southwest-sunsets-2-978280-mIn Cady v. Cargile, a Texas appellate court considered a tractor-trailer crash. The decedent was visiting a friend’s house and borrowed his pickup. Two miles away, he crashed into a tractor-trailer that was stuck, blocking all lanes of traffic, and he died. His mother sued the driver of the tractor-trailer and the trucking company for wrongful death. The jury found that the death arose out of the decedent’s own negligence and awarded no damages. The trial court ordered that the plaintiff take nothing on her claims.

The plaintiff appealed on the grounds that the trial court shouldn’t have admitted the trucking company’s expert testimony because it was irrelevant. The plaintiff contended that the expert’s methodology was unreliable and that there was too big a gap between the data and the opinion proffered. The appellate court explained that there is a two-part test that covers whether expert testimony is admissible. First, the expert needs to be qualified, and second, the testimony must be relevant and based on a reliable foundation.

The trial court has broad discretion to determine whether expert evidence is admissible or not. However, in examining whether the expert’s testimony is reliable, the court is not allowed to determine the correctness of conclusions. The expert testimony may be unreliable if the expert draws conclusions based on flawed reasoning or methodology. If there is too big a gap, as argued by the plaintiff here, the opinion may not be reliable.

In determining the reliability of an expert opinion, Texas courts consider what are called Robinson factors:  (1) to what extent a theory or technique is tested, (2) to what extent the theory or technique relies on the subjective interpretation of the expert, (3) whether the theory or technique is subjected to peer review or publication, (4) the theory or technique’s potential error rate, (5) whether the theory or technique is generally accepted by the appropriate scientific community, and (6) any non-judicial uses to which a theory or technique is put.

In this case, the trucking company’s expert was a practicing physician and psychiatrist. He had taught at multiple medical schools in Texas. In this case, he was asked to look at the police report, the autopsy report, the national standards used for safety and substance abuse issues, and materials, such as deposition testimony, stating the historical use of marijuana and methamphetamine. He was not asked to provide an opinion about what caused the accident or what the decedent should have seen at the time of the accident.

Deposition testimony showed that between 1997 and 2003, the decedent had done drugs with one of the witnesses in the case. The son had also admitted to her that he lost weight because of methamphetamine use. The witness’ son gave testimony that the son had approached him about being part of a drug running operation. The expert also reviewed a termination report from the decedent’s employer that he had tested positive for marijuana before dying. Some methamphetamine was found in his urine post-accident, but no drugs were found in his blood.

The expert’s opinion was that the decedent was a long-term methamphetamine user, and even though he might have stopped using for some time, he was probably using again at the time of the accident. He didn’t offer that the decedent was high or intoxicated at the time of the accident.

The opinion he offered was that it was likely that the decedent was in amphetamine withdrawal when he hit the tractor-trailer. Many people crashing from amphetamine withdrawal have trouble adjusting to novel situations and are exhausted. In the expert’s opinion, this was consistent with being unable to react appropriately. The expert gave this opinion based on a reasonable degree of medical probability and acknowledged it wasn’t an absolute. The expert had relied on reports by senior experts in the field that a special treatment program was needed for methamphetamine users because of this phenomenon.

The appellate court concluded that it was appropriate for the trial court to permit the expert to testify, even though he didn’t testify on any of the Robinson factors.

Suing a trucking company or truck driver can be challenging. The experienced San Antonio truck accident attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to help you. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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